Last week, Andrew Wheeler, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indicated that EPA plans to issue a final rule by Dec. 20 setting blending quotas for ethanol and biodiesel for 2020.
Wheeler’s announcement comes amid concerns by biofuel producers and farmers that EPA’s existing proposal does not do enough to offset the waivers exempting petroleum refiners from having to blend a certain amount of ethanol and biodiesel into the nation’s gasoline and diesel fuel supply each year.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association in its weekly newsletter Dec. 6 cited sources saying EPA will likely release the final rule on the 2020 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) on Dec. 20. This date is three weeks after the public comment period closed on Nov. 29. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended in the U.S. gasoline supply this year. But due to waivers granted by EPA, that requirement won’t be met.
Since President Donald Trump took office in 2016, EPA has granted 85 small-refinery exemptions to the RFS mandate, letting oil companies off the hook from using 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel.
ICGA issues new ‘call to action’
“We are suspicious of the timing EPA plans to announce the RVO for 2020 and to unveil its plan for how to handle the refinery waivers,” said ICGA President Jim Greif, who grows corn and soybeans near Monticello in Linn County in eastern Iowa. “We remain suspicious because Dec. 20 is a Friday, and it’s right before the biggest holiday of the year. Usually, when EPA or any government agency tries those tactics, it’s not good. We’re looking at this upcoming EPA announcement as one that won’t be favorable for renewable fuels.”
The public comment period is now closed on EPA’s proposal. That is, the period for sending comments to EPA about its waiver reallocation plan it announced in October. “We now want corn growers and everyone else who supports ethanol and biodiesel to continue to let EPA and the White House know how farmers feel about this RFS waiver issue,” Greif said. “Our focus is now on getting farmers to call Donald Trump himself and say: ‘You promised us farmers that you would stand up for biofuels. Please follow through.’”
‘Call White House’
“We want people to pick up their phone and call the White House and do it now,” Greif said, adding National Corn Growers Association staff in Washington is hearing rumors that EPA’s upcoming decision on Dec. 20 is going to do the opposite of what corn growers and the renewable fuels industry want.
Is Greif hopeful that calling the White House now will lead to a positive outcome? “It’s not over until it’s over,” he said. “If we can apply enough pressure on President Trump, it will help. Ultimately, the buck stops at his desk. He’s promised us that he would support biofuels and support farmers. But he needs to control some of his advisers and his EPA administrator. Remember, 2020 is an election year.”
Greif said, “EPA needs to get this waiver rule written correctly, so that it follows the intent of the RFS which is a federal law. The way the EPA waiver rule is now written isn’t quite right yet, so we need to keep the pressure on.”
ICGA has a website with a direct link to the White House. Click on “Make Your Voice Heard.” Read the message on the website headlined: “New Action Directed at President Trump: Demand EPA Action on RFS.”
Grassley hopes Trump changes rule
Last week, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters on his weekly phone call that he’s hopeful EPA will release an improved proposal to fix the waiver situation. The proposed rule to account for small-refinery exemptions to the RFS biofuel use requirements is now in EPA’s hands, Grassley said.
“Two weeks ago, another senator and I were in the White House talking to President Trump about this issue,” Grassley said. During the meeting in the Oval Office, the president invited in economic adviser Larry Kudlow and called EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on the phone. Trump told them the RFS proposal to guarantee 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol is blended into the nation’s fuel supply needs to be maintained.
“I tried to make it very clear to Wheeler,” Grassley said, “that he tells us we’re going to get 15 billion gallons of ethanol blended into the gasoline supply. But the regulations they’ve proposed bring so much uncertainty to that, so even if his intentions are 100% correct and his heart is in the right place, farmers don’t believe it.”