In what the ethanol industry called a “marked improvement” over previous proposals, the Trump administration on Thursday not only backed off plans to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) but actually delivered unexpected increases to the federal program.
In a highly anticipated rule, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized for 2018 the amount of ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended with the nation’s gasoline supply.
The proposal had been viewed as a key test of whether President Trump would follow through on his campaign promise to protect the ethanol sector, or whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — a longtime critic of the RFS — would take the administration in the opposite direction.
The EPA’s final proposal offered only modest changes to the RFS, but that’s still a victory for an ethanol industry that feared a major rollback of the program.
“Maintaining the renewable fuel standard at current levels ensures stability in the marketplace and follows through with my commitment to meet the statutory deadlines and lead the agency by upholding the rule of law,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement.
In its final rule, the agency said that 19.29 billion gallons of biofuels must be blended with gasoline supplies next year. Of that, about 15 billion gallons will come from conventional corn-based ethanol, while the other 4.29 billion gallons will come from advanced sources such as cellulosic biofuel.
The numbers represent a slight increase from the agency’s initial proposal over the summer. In July, Mr. Pruitt proposed blending a total of 19.24 billion gallons, and just 4.24 billion gallons of advanced fuels. This year, 4.28 billion gallons of advanced biofuels were to be blended with gas supplies.
The EPA also formally scrapped a plan to let oil refiners off the hook for blending the fuel themselves — a change the industry deeply opposed, and one they argued would lead to dramatic decreases in the amount of ethanol produced.
While ethanol proponents wanted greater increases, they still claimed victory Thursday in warding off major cuts.
“EPA appears to have absorbed the tens of thousands of comments from American ethanol producers, farmers, consumers, veterans, and others who suggested the proposed rule was unnecessarily pessimistic with regard to the total renewable fuel volumes, and cellulosic ethanol volumes specifically,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry’s largest trade group. “The final rule is a marked improvement, increasing both total renewable fuel and cellulosic biofuel volumes by 50 million gallons over the proposed levels.”
But some ethanol champions say the EPA didn’t go far enough, and that the final rule simply doesn’t do enough to promote growth in the sector.
“Congress intended for the RFS to drive growth in biofuels across all categories. Contrary to that goal, this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and perhaps the loudest ethanol supporter in the Senate. “I’m glad that EPA backed off [the initial] proposal, which would have represented an abandonment of President Trump’s stated commitment to biofuels and the integrity of the RFS.”
Read more at The Washington Times