EPA walks back biofuels mandate changes
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is backing off from changes it floated to biofuels policy after significant pushback from Midwestern GOP senators and a direct intervention from President Trump.
In a letter to seven senators Thursday, EPA head Scott Pruitt pledged that he would not move forward with various ideas regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), including lowering the biodiesel mandate and allowing ethanol exports to count toward the mandate.
“EPA has not taken any formal action to propose this idea, nor will EPA pursue regulations,” Pruitt wrote about the export idea in the letter, which Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) released publicly late Thursday.
Allowing exports to count toward obligations would have effectively lowered the amount of ethanol produced. The EPA never publicly proposed the idea, but it was rumored to be in discussions.
The EPA did not return a request for comment on the letter.
The commitment to certain regulatory outcomes — which is highly unusual in the regulatory process — came as Ernst and others raised the possibility of blocking Senate confirmation of certain senior EPA officials to protest the potential changes to the biofuels standard.
Trump, who had promised during the presidential campaign to support ethanol, intervened personally in the high-stakes matter this week. People close to the administration say the president went so far as to instruct Pruitt to back off on the potential changes.
Ernst had been holding out her support for EPA Air Office nominee Bill Wehrum. He is facing a confirmation vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where the GOP has a majority margin of just one vote, so he would likely need the support of all Republicans.
Ernst said she was pleased with Pruitt’s letter.
“Echoing the president’s commitment to advancing the full potential of the RFS to benefit rural America is welcome at a time when our family farms are struggling with commodity prices that are below the cost of production,” she said in a statement.
“I am appreciative of Administrator Pruitt’s pledges to rural America, and I will continue to work collaboratively with the EPA going forward on this and other issues that help our farmers, manufacturers, landowners, businesses and communities,” the statement continued.
The program mandates that fuel refiners blend certain levels of biofuels into their standard gasoline and diesel. The oil industry has consistently fought against it.
Pruitt also promised in his Thursday letter that total renewable fuel volume mandates would be at or above the levels previously proposed and he would not shift the obligation for compliance away from fuel refiners and down to fuel distributors, a proposal some refiners were pursuing.
The agency will also “actively explore” whether it can allow the sale of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — dubbed E15 — year-round. Its sale is currently restricted during the summer.
The EPA is due to release final biofuel volume mandates by Nov. 30, a date Pruitt said he is on track to meet.