EPA late in setting ethanol mandate for 2021

Despite entreaties from ethanol makers and farm groups, the EPA missed the statutory deadline on Monday to finalize the Renewable Fuel Standard, which assures a share of the gasoline market for biofuels such as corn ethanol, for 2021. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has pointed to the steep decline in gasoline sales during the pandemic and said it was difficult to forecast demand in the new year.

Ordinarily, the EPA proposes in July the RFS for the coming year with an eye to issuing the final version by Nov. 30. The EPA did not propose a 2021 RFS during the summer. It did not make an RFS announcement on Monday. The statutory target for corn ethanol consumption is 15 billion gallons a year.

“At this point, it likely makes more sense to let the new administration handle the 2021 RVO (renewable volume obligation) rule-making process entirely,” said Geoff Cooper, head of the trade group Renewable Fuels Association. President-elect Biden has been critical of waivers by EPA that exempt small refiners from complying with the RFS. “Thus, we are confident that the new EPA administrator, whoever it 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,” said Cooper.

The ethanol industry says the small-refinery waivers cumulatively reduced ethanol demand by 4 billion gallons over the years. The oil industry says the RFS is a costly burden and the gasoline market is saturated at the traditional 10% blend of ethanol into fuel for cars and light trucks.

Although the EPA did not act on the ethanol mandate for 2021, it has set the biodiesel mandate at 2.43 billion gallons for the new year. That’s because the biodiesel mandate is set two years in advance.

In a statement, Cooper said the Biden administration, which takes office on Jan. 20, might need a few months to draft and finalize an RFS, “but in the meantime the statute is crystal clear that refiners must blend at least 15 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuel in 2021.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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