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Ethanol Plan to ‘Net Out’ at 15 Billion Gallons – EPA’s Wheeler

The EPA will adjust the Renewable Fuel Standard to “net out” at 15 billion gallons in 2020 after waivers to some oil refineries, said administrator Andrew Wheeler. During a broadcast interview, Wheeler said the agency expects to release soon a detailed version of its plan, intended as a compromise between the ethanol and oil industries.

“We should have that out sometime in the next week or two,” said Wheeler during a trip to North Dakota. Red River Farm Network posted its interview with the EPA chief on Tuesday.

The EPA and USDA provided an outline of the package at the end of last week, saying “President Trump successfully negotiated an agreement” on the RFS. The administration said it would “seek comment on actions to ensure that more than 15 billion gallons of conventional (corn) ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply beginning in 2020.” On Monday, Trump said the ethanol target was “going to be, I guess, about getting close to 16 billion” gallons. “That’s a lot of gallons.”

Corn Belt farmers and ethanol makers have complained that EPA granted too many “hardship” waivers to small-volume refineries and effectively reduced the RFS, which guarantees ethanol and other renewable fuels a share of the gasoline market for cars and light trucks. U.S. consumption of ethanol declined in 2018 for the first time in two decades.

Wheeler said the small-refinery exemptions were a part of the RFS mechanism and EPA would grant them as warranted.

“At the same time, we are going to estimate what that number (of ‘lost’ gallons) will be and add it to the RFS for next year, so that after the small refineries are exempted, the final number will still end up being 15 billion gallons.”

The EPA formula would not apply to waivers granted in the past. “It’s not retroactive. It’s going forward,” said Wheeler.

“In 2020, the number will be set somewhere above 15 billion gallons, knowing we will be providing some small-refinery relief and so it will net out at 15 billion gallons.”

The 2007 law that created the RFS set year-by-year increases in the ethanol mandate, until it reached 15 billion gallons a year. Lawmakers also envisioned cleaner-burning “advanced” biofuels would eventually exceed corn ethanol in volume, but the second-generation biofuels have been slow to come to market. The EPA routinely has reduced the target for advanced biofuels. The biodiesel industry says its growth has slowed because of the RFS waivers. In the package announced last week, EPA said it would ensure that biodiesel targets are met.

Oil-state senators said the biofuel package was an unnecessary concession to the Midwest and would hurt employment at oil refineries.

To listen to the Red River interview, click here.

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