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Set highest ethanol mandate ever, senators ask EPA

The upcoming EPA regulatory reset of the Renewable Fuel Standard should push the corn ethanol target above 15 billion gallons for the highest annual mandate ever and allow E15 to be sold year-round, said farm-state senators on Wednesday. In a letter to EPA administrator Michael Regan, the senators urged the agency to establish “robust and expanded” biofuel mandates.

“We agree with you that biofuels are ready to meet the moment and serve as a key element of American energy security, economic opportunity, and climate response,” wrote the senators, who included the second-ranking Democratic and Republican leaders.

The EPA has a free hand in writing the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2023 and beyond, after years of following targets set by Congress, which set a 15 billion-gallon ceiling on corn ethanol. Now targets for the use of renewable fuels will be based on criteria in U.S. air pollution law, such as the impact of the fuels on air quality, climate change, wildlife habitat, food and fuel prices, and the availability of advanced fuels. The EPA is due to announce the RFS for 2023 by Nov. 16.

“In order to guard against sidelining decades of investment and the diverse workforce that supports biofuels, we request that EPA set the conventional [ethanol] target above 15 billion gallons, set advanced biofuel volumes that account for increased production capacity of fuels like SAF [sustainable aviation fuel] and renewable diesel, and ensure that RINS for emerging technologies and e-RINs are additive to existing volumes,” said the senators. RINs are biofuel credits that refiners buy if they fail to blend enough ethanol into gasoline, and e-RINs are credits for generating electricity from renewable fuels.

Biofuel trade groups have said they expect the EPA to raise the RFS for all types of fuels. “We are, of course, advocating for rational and reasonable growth in all categories of renewable fuels beyond the 2022 levels,” Geoff Cooper, chief executive of the Renewable Fuels Association said last month. Production of renewable diesel and biodiesel is booming, according to the Clean Fuels Alliance America. Sustainable aviation fuel could also be a dynamic market, said the trade groups.

In their letter, the senators, from the Midwest and Plains, pointed to a USDA program to share the cost with retailers of installing pumps, storage tanks, and other equipment to sell higher blends of renewable fuels, such as E15, which is gasoline containing 15% ethanol.

“Of course, the most efficient way to promote higher blends is to provide the marketplace the certainty that fuels like E15 can be sold year-round, removing the costly deterrent of fuel switching,” said the letter. “The president was correct to ensure uninterrupted sales of E15 during 2022. … We encourage EPA to utilize any authority at its disposal to extend year-round E15 into the future.”

President Biden issued a waiver last spring allowing summertime sales of E15 nationwide, a necessary step because courts had voided a Trump-era regulation for year-round sales. The administration said lower-priced E15 would help Americans cope with inflation.

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