In February 2020, President Trump nominated Doug Benevento as the deputy administrator for the EPA. Six months later, Benevento has yet to be sworn in as the agency’s second-in-command. Republican senators are planning to vote against his confirmation because of a disagreement over biofuel waivers. What does biofuel have to do with the EPA’s new deputy administrator?
A Fight Over Biofuel Waivers
In an effort to reduce emissions and lessen our reliance on fossil fuels, refineries are required to blend ethanol into their gasoline. This is part of the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, and even though very few modern vehicles run on pure ethanol, the majority of gas in the country contains at least 10% of it.
Unfortunately, small refineries can also find themselves in dire financial straits as a direct result of this requirement. In these cases, if the refineries can prove that blending their fuel will cause irreparable financial harm to the company, the EPA can issue a waiver that spares them from the requirements.
While this might sound like a good thing for small fuel refineries, biodiesel and ethanol producers are left at a disadvantage. As a result, the senators representing the states where biodiesel and ethanol are produced are withholding their votes, preventing the confirmation of Benevento as the deputy administrator of the EPA.
Some believe that this is an election-year stunt. For example, the same senator withholding her vote allowed the confirmation of the current EPA administrator — Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist — to take control of the administration.
Shifting Our Green Energy Focus
While Republicans and Democrats are fighting over EPA waivers, more renewable alternatives are starting to hit the market. For example, Toyota is working toward reducing the CO2 emissions in its vehicles by 90% by 2050. The company plans to support that lofty goal by improving its selection of hybrid electric, plug-in electric, battery-powered and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
We may even be able to power a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, surprisingly enough, with fossil fuels. In Australia, EPA Victoria recently approved a research and development application that will explore the idea of extracting hydrogen from coal. The trial has 12 months to test the viability of the technology. To prove the concept is viable, it’s hoping to produce 3 tons of hydrogen from 160 tons of brown coal.
While this not might sound like an equitable trade-off, it could allow us to generate the hydrogen we’ll need for these fuel-cell-powered vehicles without extracting it from seawater. Assuming that it doesn’t create massive amounts of dangerous waste, it could provide a way to use the coal we mine every year without burning it and releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Future of the EPA and Green Energy
Only time will tell how long senators will hold their votes hostage when it comes to the confirmation of EPA Deputy Administrator Benevento. Still, this political delay hasn’t stopped the green energy industry from moving forward. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells could be the wave of the future, and it seems like everyone is working toward that goal.