Of bedtimes and biofuels…

By Matt Reese

Summer is here and as far as the Reese children are concerned, the structure and discipline of the school year schedule disappears. This is most obvious at bedtime, or a lack thereof.

I have a system for playing with the children, coaching their sports, general dad stuff, and getting things done. I work while they are at school and when they get home we do chores/fun stuff/homework/sports practice. They go to bed and then I can get some more work done until midnight or so.

The problem with my system is that as they get older and the bedtime gets later, my window for getting work done in the late evening gets smaller. And, as I get older, I am also finding that I can’t work as late as I used to.

During the school year the bedtime used to be a hard 8:00, but over the last year or so that has evolved into more like 9:00. The summer schedule makes it often much later and now I find myself randomly waking up at 12:30 a.m. face down on my laptop staring at a long string of whatever letter key my nose landed on when I dozed off.

This situation is made more challenging because the children are excellent stallers. This seems like an innate trait for many children but mine have shown great skill and proficiency in delaying bedtime. Tactics like “I need a drink” or “I forgot to brush my teeth” are certainly common, but my 10-year-old daughter uses the most effective bedtime-stalling technique.

Although she may actually be in bed at the designated time, when I tuck her in she will say in her sweetest voice, “Daddy, I want to tell you about my day.” Both parties in this situation are quite aware that I am a sucker for this. As a father I feel like it is very important for me to be as involved with my daughter’s life as possible and this is a great way to learn about pre-teen girl drama, crushes, school work, 4-H, and run-ins with bullies while interjecting occasional bits of sage, fatherly advice.

I really do love the chats, but before I know it, the hard 9:00 bedtime ends up being much closer to 10 and I am half asleep. When I make exceptions to the bedtime rule, even for what may be good reasons, it undermines the whole system.

Similar exceptions to rules have led to quite a confusing mess of the RFS as of late. The Renewable Fuel Standard was put in place under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The RFS was created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil by setting mandates for the amounts of biofuels (largely ethanol) used domestically.

To make sure the renewable fuel mandates are met, a tracking system of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) was created. Those who produce and blend biofuels create RINs. Refiners who do not work with biofuels can purchase RINs to meet the RFS mandates. This creates a market for RINs.

Many small refiners do not blend biofuels so they must buy RINs. In some cases RIN costs can add up to millions of dollars. For example, Philadelphia Energy Solutions filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year claiming their financial hardships were largely due to exorbitant RIN costs. This caused quite a political stir.

To help small refiners address the RIN cost concerns, the EPA began issuing waivers — at least 40 in the past two years. These waivers, though, undermine the system put in place by the RFS and the goals of the original intent of the law.

“The U.S. EPA has allowed waivers to some small refiners that amount to an estimated 1.6 billion gallons. So that 15 billion gallons required in the RFS is now shrunk by 1.6 billion gallons. The oil industry got what they wanted,” said Tadd Nicholson, executive director of Ohio Corn and Wheat. “The 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol that the EPA has offered waivers to would take all of the corn the state of Ohio produces in a typical year. That is demand erosion. Corn farmers have been very proud of the increase in demand from ethanol that has helped our markets. It has helped rural Ohio and many areas of the economy. The EPA Administrator, with the swipe of his pen, eroded demand that would equal the corn crop in the state of Ohio.”

Nicholson points out that, while he understands that RINs can get expensive in some situations, refiners have had 13 years to prepare for this. Rather than issue waivers (or implement a proposed legislative cap on RIN prices) RFS supporters instead suggested removing the requirements of the Reid Vapor Pressure regulation that arbitrarily prevents the sale of E15 in the summer months. The resulting bump in ethanol demand would increase the number of RINs produced.

“We have been meeting on this for a long time,” Nicholson said. “All we are asking for is a Reid Vapor Pressure waiver for anything above 10% ethanol. This would allow us to sell E15 all year long. That would put more RINs on the market and lower the price of the RINs, which helps refiners and helps corn demand.”

In an early May meeting at the White House (that was said to be among the last in what has been an ongoing set of meetings on the topic) the Trump Administration indicated that RIN caps were off the table, RIN waivers would be more closely scrutinized and E15 could be sold year round — all victories for biofuel proponents.

To be certain, this is a confusing issue. Some waivers are good and some bad and it all changes depending on who is being asked. There are ample acronyms, plentiful politics and strange alliances around every corner with this ongoing RFS saga. This has certainly been frustrating for biofuel producers who have planned and invested in businesses based on the passage and implementation of the RFS system that has been under almost constant scrutiny and uncertainty. How can any system be expected to accomplish its goals when it is constantly being changed, compromised and undermined?

It all makes me yearn for 8:00 bedtimes, but I fear we are living in a perpetually political summer where rules (and bedtimes) are made only to be broken.


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