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EPA misses deadline, leaving ethanol policy in limbo

EPA misses deadline, leaving ethanol policy in limbo
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The Trump administration failed to renew its biofuels policy by the Monday deadline, once again sidestepping a battle between the oil and the ethanol industries.

The missed deadline means it remains unclear how much ethanol and other biofuels oil refiners must blend into their fuels next year, punting the decision to the incoming Biden administration.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that EPA is missing its statutory deadline for publishing the final rule … given that we still haven’t even seen a proposed rule,” Renewable Fuel Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Cooper said at this point it makes more sense to let the new administration handle the entire process.

“President-elect [Joe] Biden has correctly noted that the [Renewable Fuel Standard] (RFS) waivers granted by the current EPA have ‘severely cut ethanol production, costing farmers income and ethanol plant workers their jobs.’ Thus, we are confident that the new EPA administrator, whoever that may end up being, will stop doing secret favors for oil refiners and ensure the RFS is implemented in a way that is consistent with the law and Congressional intent," he said.

The ethanol industry remains perturbed that the EPA granted more than 80 waivers exempting small oil refiners from adding ethanol to their fuels — something they say cut demand for their product at a critical time. Many corn farmers were likewise being hit by tariffs as part of Trump’s trade war, limiting markets for their product. 

The action pitted one part of Trump’s base against another — refiners have sought to avoid the added expense of adding ethanol to their product, particularly as their own markets have tanked.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents the refining industry, said they hope EPA will ultimately settle on a rule that’s “in line with market realities.”

“With unprecedented turbulence in the transportation fuels market, difficult market conditions, and a long and uncertain road to recovery from COVID-19, it is critical that EPA's proposal reflect achievable targets to prevent further damage to America’s refining sector,” Geoff Moody, vice president of government relations for the group, said in a statement. 

The EPA did not respond to questions about whether they still might seek to advance a proposal this year, but the timeline would make it nearly impossible to finalize a rule before Inauguration Day.

“Under this administration, EPA has worked to aggressively uphold the integrity of the RFS and will continue to do so,” agency spokesman James Hewitt said in an email.