Biden hits Trump over Renewable Fuel Standard delays, waivers

Source: By Spencer Chase, AgriPulse • Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, says President Donald Trump has “sold out” American farmers in his governance of the nation’s biofuel mandate.

In a statement exclusive to Agri-Pulse, Biden slammed Trump’s delay in announcing annual volume targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal law setting biofuel blending targets for the nation’s fuel supply, and for issuing waivers from the mandate to small oil refineries.

“The Renewable Fuel Standard marks our bond with our farmers and our commitment to a thriving rural economy,” Biden said in the statement. “Donald Trump doesn’t respect that connection, and he’s thrown it away to the detriment of generations of producers across the Midwest and around the country — many of whom put their trust in him four years ago.”

The Trump administration has granted dozens of small refinery exemptions — waivers from the RFS given to facilities who claim complying with the law would cause them undue economic harm — and has been roundly criticized in farm country for doing so.

A court decision earlier this year declared the waivers needed to be awarded consistently and could not lapse year-to-year, leading several facilities to request retroactive waivers dating as far back as the 2011 compliance year. According to EPA’s SRE dashboard, there are just shy of 100 waiver applications pending.

Biden also criticized Trump for the delay in announcing the Renewable Volume Obligations, set annually by the EPA to determine the amount of biofuels to be blended in the following year. The proposed RVOs, which are typically released during the summer, have yet to be released, and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has confirmed the final rule — due by law Nov. 30 each year — will not be completed on time. According to media reports, the agency is unlikely to announce a proposal before the November election.

“The Obama-Biden Administration kept our word to farmers,” Biden added. “A Biden-Harris Administration will promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels to help rural America and our nation’s farmers, and will honor the critical role the renewable fuel industry plays in supporting the rural economy and the leadership role American agriculture will play in our fight against climate change.”

While Biden may be criticizing the Trump administration for an RVO delay, the Obama administration where he served as vice president once dealt with a much slower process and went years without announcing new volumes. In 2015, the EPA announced three years of RVOs at once after failing to set blending targets the previous two years. In an interview, Tom Vilsack — the secretary of agriculture during that delay — said the Trump administration’s delay is different due to the election year politics at play.

“The Trump administration has failed to abide by the RFS, has granted waivers to large oil companies that don’t merit them, and has failed to provide additional assistance and help during the coronavirus pandemic to this industry,” Vilsack said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “I think there are steep concerns about precisely what they will do with the RVOs if they are allowed to essentially push them beyond the election.”

While biofuel groups have been frustrated with the Trump administration’s waiver policies and RVO delay, they’ve also been complimentary for the timely announcements of previous years. There’s also the matter of E15, which was blocked from sale during the summer months until a 2019 executive order allowed for the fuel’s year-round sale.

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But Vilsack said the sporadic harm and benefit cycle faced by the biofuels industry in recent years is not conducive to long-term planning, and said the Democratic ticket offers a more stable future for the sector.

“The Biden/Harris administration will live up to the responsibilities of the RFS,” Vilsack pledged. “They see this is a promise to the industry, and they understand and appreciate that what’s necessary is consistency and what’s necessary is stability and certainty. Right now, we don’t have that stability, we don’t have that certainty, we don’t have that consistency.”

Aside from changes in RFS governance, Vilsack also pointed to the procurement ability of the federal government as a key way Biden could assist the industry. Biden’s rural plan says he “will use every tool at his disposal, including the federal fleet and the federal government’s purchasing power, to promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels.”