WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency missed the annual statutory Nov. 30 deadline to set renewable volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2021.
Every year, EPA is required to set the RVO so that biofuel and fossil fuel companies understand their total renewable fuel blending obligations for the following year.
EPA’s failure to meet the deadline was not surprising to Geoff Cooper, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO. EPA typically proposes the next year’s RFS levels in July or early August and that wasn’t done this year.
“We think at this point, let’s just let the new administration handle the 2021 RFS proposal, let them run the entire process. And there are a few reasons we say that. I think first even if EPA released a proposal today, there’s no way they could get it finalized before Jan. 20, which is Inauguration Day,” Cooper said.
“So, the final rule is going to be up to the (President-elect Joe) Biden folks no matter what, and do we really want them trying to inherit a proposal that was sort of hastily rushed out the door by the outgoing (EPA Administrator Andrew) Wheeler, or do we want to give them a clean slate to start this rule-making process?”
Growth Energy has submitted a notice of intent to sue the EPA for its failure to fulfill its statutory obligation. The notice gives EPA 60 days to issue the 2021 RVO before risking a lawsuit in federal court.
“Biofuel producers faced a difficult year in 2020 with fuel demand plummeting to 30-year lows at a historic rate. At its lowest, over half the country’s biofuel plants were forced to slow down or idle, and many have still been unable to come back online,” said Emily Skor, Growth Energy CEO.
“As we head into a new year and our industry continues to try and recover from the effects of COVID-19, EPA’s failure to meet their statutory obligation to issue RVOs piles on the uncertainty in the fuel marketplace. The agency needs to take action on behalf of rural America and follow through with its RFS obligation.”
Cooper said “flying blind” without an RVO rule is challenging, but that the industry should have a good idea of how much renewable fuel will be required, especially for conventional renewable fuels such as corn ethanol.
“We know the statute says 15 billion gallons for corn ethanol. We know that’s what EPA should have been enforcing every year since 2015. They have failed to do that, but we also know the Biden administration and specifically when President-elect Biden specifically was campaigning he said that he would honor that 15 billion gallon requirement that’s in the law,” Cooper noted.
“So, we think even in the absence of an RVO rule the marketplace should know at least with regard to conventional biofuel the requirement is going to be 15 billion gallons. It’s different for cellulosic and advanced. That’s where the lack of an RVO rule really does create some uncertainty and confusion because from year to year it’s hard to predict where EPA is going to set those volumes.”
EPA missing the statutory deadline is not uncommon. The Obama administration didn’t meet that required RVO rule-making deadline in 2014-2015.
“They were more than a year late with some of those. So, we’ve been down this path before and we finally at the end of the Obama administration got to a place where the Obama EPA understood that we have to get these RVO rules out on time to give the regulated community and entire supply chain the certainty they’re looking for,” Cooper said.
“We’re hopeful that the lessons learned from the previous go-around on this are top of mind for the incoming administration and they understand the importance of keeping on a timely schedule with getting these RVO rules out. We’re just hopeful Biden’s folks can come in and act pretty quickly to get an RVO rule proposed and finalized for 2021 and let us move forward.”