Interview with Harvard’s James Stock: Navigating a Sensible Middle Path Forward on the Renewable Fuel Standard

July 9, 2015 | 9:52 am
Jeremy Martin
Senior Scientist and Director of Fuels Policy

Earlier this month I had the chance to sit down with Professor James Stock of Harvard University to discuss the future of biofuels and the key federal policy governing them, the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

Professor Stock served as a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in 2013 and 2014. He was deeply involved in deliberations about the RFS during his tenure, and it was in that context that I first met him, back in October 2013, when I went to the White House to offer perspective on how best to implement the RFS.

Updating the RFS to address the delayed scale up of cellulosic biofuel and to shift from the current 10% ethanol (E10) to higher blends turned out to be very complex and challenging, and the proposal EPA made late in 2013 was ultimately withdrawn and only reissued at the end of May of this year.

Professor Stock has continued to think about the RFS since leaving the White House, publishing a report in April titled The Renewable Fuel Standard: A Path Forward, which he presented recently at the Press Club with other biofuels experts I have featured in this blog (including Scott Irwin and Bruce Babcock). I interviewed Professor Stock at Harvard on June 8th, just a few days after EPA issued the long-delayed rules that we had discussed 20 months earlier.

In our conversation Professor Stock explained why biofuels policy is challenging, but important, and why the recent EPA proposal is a sensible middle path forward. The video has some key highlights, and for the real policy wonks, the audio and transcript of our longer discussion covers the future of renewable fuels and the RFS, possible routes forward for the RFS, different externalities the RFS is designed to address and a number of other topics related to fuel policy in general. It was a lengthy conversation, so I’ve included a table of contents (with timestamps for the audio) to help you find specific topics of interest.

Three key takeaways are:

  • While the route forward for the RFS is not without challenges and risks, it is the best of several challenging options.
  • Establishing a greater degree of predictability and forward guidance to market participants is key to delivering on policy goals.
  • Making progress on the ethanol blending constraints is critical to the success of cellulosic biofuels and can reduce costs to the consumer as well.

Listen to the full audio below, or download the full transcript here.