Trump admin misses RFS deadline, expected to punt to Biden

Source: By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2020

EPA missed its Nov. 30 deadline to set next year’s biofuel volumes under the federal renewable fuel standard and is all but certain to leave that job to the incoming Biden administration.

The renewable fuel standard law requires EPA to set final regulations for the coming year by Nov. 30, but the agency has yet to even release a proposal, a delay some industry representatives attribute in part to market uncertainties tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that EPA is missing its statutory deadline for publishing the final rule for 2021 RVOs, given that we still haven’t even seen a proposed rule,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, referring to renewable volume obligations under the law.

“Even if a proposed rule was released today, it would be next to impossible to have a final rule done by the end of the calendar year, or even by inauguration day,” he added.

The law requires refiners to blend a minimum of 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol a year into the nation’s fuel supply, so that amount isn’t in much doubt, Cooper said. And biodiesel levels are set two years in advance, so that number — 2.43 billion gallons — is already determined for 2021.

But levels of advanced biofuel and cellulosic ethanol, for instances, remain to be seen, as is the overall volume requirement for renewable fuel.

“At this point, it likely makes more sense to let the new administration handle the 2021 RVO rulemaking process entirely,” Cooper said in a statement today, adding that President-elect Joe Biden as a candidate was sympathetic to the biofuel industry’s argument that biofuel-blending waivers granted by EPA cut ethanol production.

Rulemaking for the biofuel volumes may be more complicated than usual this year. Demand for liquid fuels rests on Americans’ appetite for car travel, which depends on how quickly the pandemic and its restrictions ease.

That’s a primary cause for the delay, a refining industry source told E&E News, adding that EPA has plenty of time this year to propose volumes for 2021.

In addition, EPA officials must weigh how much to account for biofuel volumes “lost” to small refinery waivers granted in cases of economic hardship. Those waivers could plummet from prior years due to litigation losses for EPA, as well as a changed approach under Biden.

In a typical year, EPA would propose the next year’s volumes in summer, then publish a final rule in November. But the agency doesn’t always meet the deadline, and the Obama administration once had to make up for two years, issuing rules retroactively.