Wheeler: RFS blending decision stalled by pandemic

Source: By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2020

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler yesterday acknowledged that his agency may not be able to meet a late November deadline to set biofuel blending requirements for next year.

In a joint news conference call with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Wheeler said the annual rulemaking is more complicated than usual because of market disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This has been a very unusual year,” Wheeler said on the call, which EPA and the Agriculture Department had arranged to discuss a different subject. Highway travel plummeted as lockdowns went into place and has only gradually begun to recover.

Among other factors, EPA, along with the Energy Department, considers expected market conditions for the coming year. The biofuel requirement is the heart of the renewable fuel standard, which Congress added to the Clean Air Act in 2005, with further changes in 2007.

Wheeler said EPA is working through the related issues and hopes to have a final regulation soon. The deadline is Nov. 30.

“We’re trying to understand what the market is going to be and what to expect for next year,” Wheeler said.

He added that EPA has more data to review than it might have in a typical year.

However late the announcement might be, Wheeler said, the record for tardiness set by the Obama administration — two years — appears to be safe.

“We’re not going to break their record of how late they were,” Wheeler said.

While the annual volume requirement awaits a final decision, EPA is also considering dozens of requests from small refineries for exemptions from biofuel blending requirements — mainly for retroactive waivers going back a few years.

Wheeler said EPA is “beginning to look” at those petitions.

The agency has reported receiving 67 such petitions for years from 2011 to 2018, in addition to 31 for 2019 and 2020.

No matter what the final decision on small-refinery exemptions is, Wheeler said, lawsuits are likely from either biofuel critics or advocates. The agency needs to be sure to provide as much certainty as possible for all sides, he said.

The Renewable Fuels Association, an industry group, wrote to Wheeler today, urging quick action on the outstanding RFS issues.

“By disregarding statutory deadlines, flouting court decisions, and failing to make timely decisions, the Environmental Protection Agency is undermining predictability and confidence in the renewable fuels market and abetting longtime opponents of the RFS who perpetually seek the destabilize the program,” wrote the association’s president and CEO, Geoff Cooper.