UPDATE 2-U.S. EPA eyes extending refinery biofuel deadlines, no action on waivers

(Updates with additional information, biofuel industry comment)

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday it would propose to extend deadlines for refiners to prove compliance with biofuel laws, but signaled it would not decide on a slew of pending waiver requests submitted by the industry.

The agency's proposal represented mixed news for refiners hard hit by slumping energy demand during the coronavirus pandemic and eager to sidestep regulatory costs associated with U.S. biofuel blending policy. It also marks one of the last actions from President Donald Trump's EPA before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

The agency said it is proposing to extend the compliance deadline for 2019 biofuel blending obligations to Nov. 30, 2021, and an associated deadline for submission of attest engagement reports to June 1, 2022. The EPA is also proposing to extend the 2020 deadlines to Jan. 31, 2022, and June 1, 2022.

Refiners must hand in credits to the EPA each year to prove they complied with their annual biofuel blending obligations for the previous year.

The agency also said it was not taking a position on the availability of 2019 small refinery waivers, which can exempt oil refiners from biofuel blending obligations. The agency said the decision was related to pending litigation regarding the waiver program.

EPA could not be reached by Reuters to clarify whether that meant the agency was not issuing any additional waivers before Trump leaves office.

The proposal was outlined in a document seen by Reuters that is scheduled to be posted on the Federal Register on Friday.

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels like corn-based ethanol into their fuel mix, or buy credits from those that do. Refiners can apply for exemptions if they can prove the obligations would cause them financial harm.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, EPA had not enforced compliance for some refineries for the 2019 compliance year.

"While we don’t agree that EPA needs to wait as long as it is proposing, particularly for the 2020 compliance year, we do agree with EPA that the outgoing administration should refrain from any further action on the pending small refinery petitions," said Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. (Reporting by Stephanie Kelly Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky and Paul Simao)

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