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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

From Renewable Fuels to Clean Fuels

The RFS After 2022, and Other Ways the Biden Administration Can Drive the Transition to Cleaner Transportation Fuels

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Curbing emissions from the transportation sector is one of the most important steps the United States can take to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52% by 2030. In fact, transportation emissions account for nearly a third of all such emissions in the U.S., in addition to being a major public health and environmental justice issue. The Biden Administration has the important opportunity to use existing authorities to promote cleaner transportation fuels.

Currently, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is the dominant federal policy that governs transportation fuels. It requires fuel providers (i.e. oil companies) to incorporate bio-based renewable fuels, like ethanol, in their production each year. This paper explores the background and effectiveness of the RFS, its relevance in the current needs of the country’s energy policy, and what other tools the Biden administration should use–like section 211(c) of the Clean Air Act–to promote low-carbon or “clean” fuels as part of its whole-of-government climate agenda. 

This paper provides timely, actionable policy recommendations for federal policymakers towards a clean fuel future for America.

Congress set annual targets for the RFS through 2022, which means that 2023 will be the first time in over a decade that the administration will have statutory discretion to set new targets and enact reforms to the RFS. Specifically, this paper offers 5 improvements to the RFS beginning in 2023 including: 


  1. Improving life cycle analyses to more accurately reflect emissions and environmental impacts associated with each fuel
  2. Using a more strict life cycle analysis to revise the acceptable fuel pathways to only capture fuels that truly reduce emissions
  3. Establishing a maximum allowable lands change threshold
  4. Right sizing fuel requirements
  5. Reforming the credit trading program to incentivize the production of the least polluting fuels

In addition, the Biden administration should look beyond the RFS to other ways that it can use its existing authorities to drive deeper transformation in the transportation sector. This includes by actively supporting state low-carbon fuel standards (LCFS), and by leveraging the Clean Air Act to reduce pollution from transportation fuels and promote clean alternative fuels, like electricity.

Ultimately, the path to a healthier, more secure clean energy economy runs squarely through the transition to 100% zero-emission cars and trucks, which will free the sector from both massive tailpipe pollution and from its unsustainable dependence on oil. But the gradual nature of transition as it stands today means we will continue to rely on liquid fuels in the meantime, and federal lawmakers—starting with EPA—should ensure that fuel providers deliver the cleanest fuels possible.