The U.S. Renewable Fuels Standards Program and Palm Oil


Under U.S. law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is responsible for administering the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) program.  This program seeks to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels by increasing the use of biofuels.  The law establishes different categories of renewable fuels and the level of GHG reductions they must meet in order to qualify as renewable.  Under the law USEPA conducts scientific “lifecycle” analyses of the production and use of these fuels to determine if they meet established GHG reduction thresholds.  As part of the RFS program, USEPA is working toward a final lifecycle analysis of transportation fuels produced from palm oil, as well as other transportation fuels.  This is a complex issue, and in addition to a fact-finding trip to Indonesia and Malaysia, USEPA is seeking extensive information to make the most informed decision possible.

Background: The RFS Program

  • In order to reduce GHG emissions that contribute to climate change and diversify fuel sources, USEPA administers a program for increasing the supply of renewable fuels.  Under the RFS program, the total volume mandate increases each year until it reaches a total of 36 billion gallons by 2022.
  • There are different categories of renewable fuels under the program.
  • Fuels under each category must achieve certain GHG emission reductions – compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace – in order to qualify as renewable.
  • The thresholds for qualifying under the renewable fuels mandates are:
    • Conventional renewable fuels: 20 percent less GHG emissions
    • Biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels: 50 percent less GHG emissions, and
    • Cellulosic biofuels: 60 percent less.
  • For each category, the reductions are calculated based on a complete lifecycle, which includes a full assessment of the GHG emissions from a biofuel’s production, distribution and tailpipe emissions.
  • The RFS program will reduce the United States’ dependence on oil by more than 328 million barrels a year and cut GHG emissions by more than 138 million metric tons a year when fully phased in by 2022.

The Preliminary Finding for Palm Oil

  • On January 27, 2012 USEPA issued a document called a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) to provide the public an opportunity to comment on USEPA’s initial lifecycle analysis on transportation fuels produced from palm oil.
  • The analysis in the NODA showed that transportation fuels from palm oil do not meet the minimum 20 percent lifecycle GHG reduction threshold to qualify as renewable fuel under the RFS program.  In the United States all biofuels undergo the same type of analysis. To date, USEPA has completed lifecycle assessments for dozens of different biofuels.  In addition to the ongoing assessment of palm oil, the Agency is conducting assessments on more than 30 other prospective biofuels.
  • USEPA has received more than 10,000 comments from a diverse group of countries, industries, scientists and NGOs and the Agency continues to seek and receive additional information.

U.S. Engagement with Indonesia and Malaysia

  • High-level officials and technical experts from Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States have had several productive meetings to discuss the RFS palm oil analysis.
  • In response to an invitation from the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia a delegation of USEPA officials and technical experts visited the two countries to better understand the comments the governments provided on USEPA’s lifecycle GHG assessment.
  • Working closely with the U.S. embassies in both countries, a full itinerary from Oct. 21-27 covers Sumatra, Java, and Peninsular Malaysia, including plantation visits in both countries.  Meetings will be held with a diverse group of government, industry, scientific and civil society experts.

Next Steps

  • Information from the comment process, including any new information gathered from this trip, will be fully considered by USEPA’s technical team upon return.  This review will be extensive and may require additional technical input, new modeling runs, and additional expert consultation.
  • The assessments and final determinations are for the narrow purpose of helping to decide whether a biofuel meets the GHG reduction thresholds to qualify as “renewable fuel,” “biomass-based diesel” or “advanced biofuel” under the RFS program.  In the case of palm oil, USEPA’s evaluation will not affect palm oil exports to the United States for food or other purposes.  This determination also will not restrict the ability of palm oil biofuels to be imported to the United States.  It will only help to determine whether such fuels are eligible under U.S. law to be used to comply with the RFS program.

More Information

To learn more about the RFS program, visit