NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has backed off a series of proposed changes to the nation’s biofuels policy after a massive backlash from corn-state lawmakers worried the moves would undercut ethanol demand, according to a letter from the agency to lawmakers seen by Reuters.
The letter could end uncertainty about the future of the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard under the administration of President Donald Trump that has roiled commodity and energy markets for months. The program, which requires refineries to blend increasing amounts of ethanol and other biofuels into the nation’s fuel supply every year, appeared on the verge of a massive overhaul.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the letter dated Oct. 19 that the agency will keep renewable fuel volume mandates for next year at or above proposed levels, reversing a previous move to open the door to cuts. He said the EPA would not pursue another idea floated by EPA leadership that would have allowed exported ethanol to be counted toward those volume quotas.
Pruitt also said the EPA did not believe a proposal to shift the biofuels blending obligation away from refiners was appropriate. That plan is backed by representatives of a handful of independent refining companies.
Those ideas would have eased the burden on some in the refining industry, who have argued that biofuels compete with petroleum, and that the blending responsibility costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
But Midwestern lawmakers, including Republicans Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, had vocally opposed all those ideas, calling them a betrayal of the administration’s promises to support the corn belt. They were concerned the moves would undercut domestic demand for ethanol, a key industry in the region that has supported corn growers.
In Pruitt’s letter, he said the EPA was prepared to work with Congress to examine the possibility of a waiver that would allow the sale of E15 gasoline, containing 15 percent ethanol, year-round – something currently not permitted during the summer due to concerns about smog.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said in a response to the letter on Friday morning that the U.S. ethanol industry was “grateful for Administrator Pruitt’s epiphany on the road to the RFS.”
Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; writing by Richard Valdmanis and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Bernadette Baum