EPA punts on renewable fuel mandate decision

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday said it is holding off on the final rule for standards that tell refiners how much ethanol and other biofuels must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

The announcement comes as the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ran out the 90-day clock to review the agency’s proposed standards, which for the first time signaled a retreat by the EPA on the percentage of biofuels that must be blended.

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“EPA issued a notice announcing that it will not be finalizing 2014 volume standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard program before the end of 2014,” an EPA official said on Friday.

The agency added that the proposal received a “significant number” of comments, specifically on “the proposal’s ability to ensure continued progress toward achieving the law’s renewable fuel targets.”

“Due to the delay in finalizing the standards for 2014, and given ongoing consideration of the issues presented by the commenters, the agency intends to take action on the 2014 standards rule in 2015,” the official said.

The proposal, which was first released in November of last year, pleased the oil industry, which argues that increasing biofuel harms equipment, and cars, and causes a “blend wall” to be hit.

As the proposed rule reached the OMB earlier this year, however, White House officials and the EPA continued to signal that the numbers were going to change, and to the benefit of biofuel producers, who argued the lower levels in the initial proposal would stifle growth in the industry.

The EPA said on Friday that it hopes to “get back on” an annual schedule for 2014, 2015, and 2016 standards in the next year.

Industry groups on both sides were enraged by Friday’s delay.

The National Biodiesel Board, which is in favor of the standards and wants higher blend levels, scolded the administration.

"This Administration says over and over that it supports biodiesel, yet its actions with these repeated delays are undermining the industry,” said Anne Steckel, president of federal affairs for the board.

“Biodiesel producers have laid off workers and idled production. Some have shut down altogether. We are urging the Administration to finalize a 2014 rule as quickly as possible that puts this industry back on track for growth and puts our country back on track for ending our dangerous dependence on oil,” Steckel added.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) filed a notice of intent to sue the agency on Friday for not releasing a final rule. 

"The fact that EPA proposed the 2014 standards over a year ago, and now 2014 is almost over, is another reason why Congress needs to step in and repeal or significantly reform this badly broken program,” said Charles Drevna, president of AFPM.