Policy uncertainty and the US ethanol industry
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2), as implemented, has introduced uncertainty into US ethanol producers and the supporting commodity market. First, the fixed mandate for what is mainly cornstarch-based ethanol has increased feedstock price volatility and exerts a general effect across the agricultural sector. Second, the large discrepancy between the original Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) intentions and the actual RFS2 implementation for some fuel classes has increased the investment uncertainty facing investors in biofuel production, distribution, and consumption. Here we discuss and analyze the sources of uncertainty and evaluate the effect of potential RFS2 adjustments as they influence these uncertainties. This includes the use of a flexible, production dependent mandate on corn starch ethanol. We find that a flexible mandate on cornstarch ethanol relaxed during drought could significantly reduce commodity price spikes and alleviate the decline of livestock production in cases of feedstock production shortfalls, but it would increase the risk for ethanol investors.