Do big goals lead to bad policy? How policy feedback explains the failure and success of cellulosic biofuel in the United States

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3 Scopus citations

Abstract

U.S. policymakers are pursuing visionary policies for clean energy, including a proposed federal Green New Deal and state and city pledges for 100% renewable energy. Bold policy goals are unlikely to be achieved, however, if policy instruments are poorly designed, as occurred in past experiences of ambitious but unsuccessful energy policy. To understand how ambitious energy transition goals affect the political dynamics of policy design and implementation, this paper conducts a longitudinal case study of the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard using policy feedback theory. It finds that unrealistically high goals for cellulosic biofuels triggered weak policy design, undermining the policy's effectiveness. This was a negative policy feedback wherein anticipated costs led policymakers to weaken the mandate with waivers, exemptions, and alternative compliance options. Yet while too much flexibility on fuel volumes led to insufficient incentives for cellulosic ethanol, the policy's flexibility on fuel pathways allowed for new developments in cellulosic renewable natural gas. Thus, the case offers both a cautionary tale about the political risks of overambitious goals, as well as constructive lessons about policies that build new constituencies for clean energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101755
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Volume69
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Cellulosic biofuels
  • Energy policy
  • Policy feedback
  • Process tracing
  • Renewable natural gas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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