Industry groups miffed over expected 2020 RFS levels

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2019

 Biofuel splashing. Photo credit: U.S. EPA

Biofuel industry groups said they were disappointed to hear that EPA may hold conventional biofuel levels steady next year under the renewable fuel standard, even though overall renewable fuel levels would climb.

Responding to a Reuters report that EPA has proposed keeping conventional biofuels made mainly from corn at 15 billion gallons next year, ethanol advocates said EPA appears not to be accounting for 500 million gallons lost to waivers granted to refineries three years ago, even though it’s been told to do so by a federal court.

“We hope — and expect — to see a requirement for 15.5 billion gallons in 2020, or some other explicit and effective means of restoring the lost 500 million gallon volume,” Geoff Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement.

An EPA spokesman reached by E&E News didn’t address the numbers in the EPA proposal and said it’s under review by other agencies. Congressionally set timelines require an annual proposal to be released each May, and final regulations are due in November after a public comment period.

“The proposal is currently under interagency review, which places the Trump administration on track to release the renewable fuel standard renewable volume obligations on time for the third consecutive year,” said spokesman Michael Abboud. “This is in contrast to previous administrations which frequently failed to release their RVOs by the date intended by Congress.”

Each year, EPA sets targets for biofuel to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply, as directed by Congress in the federal renewable fuel standard. The announcements usually spark debate between interest groups for and against ethanol mandates, with petroleum companies and some environmental groups fighting ethanol.

This year’s proposal has the added element of a court fight over exemptions granted to some refiners in 2016, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2017 ordered the agency to restore through increased volumes in subsequent rulemaking.

The news report, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the proposal, said EPA aims to boost overall renewable fuel levels to 20.04 billion gallons from 19.92 billion gallons this year. Advanced biofuel levels would climb from 4.92 billion gallons to 5.04 billion gallons, according to the report.

The chief executive of Growth Energy, Emily Skor, said the numbers don’t offer much reassurance to rural areas suffering from declines in farm income.

“The rumored EPA targets don’t offer much hope for revitalizing growth in the farm belt. Based on news reports, EPA resisted oil-backed calls to cut conventional targets, but there’s no significant jump in advanced biofuels, and we still don’t have any commitment to address the recent and rapid escalation of small refinery exemptions,” Skor said.