OMAHA (DTN) -- Sensing a change in support for biofuels from President Donald Trump's administration, a number of biofuel, agriculture and manufacturing groups asked the president to make sure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not enact two proposed changes to federal policy they say could hurt the industry.
In a letter to Trump on Tuesday, industry groups asked the president to reverse course on two EPA proposals that could further slash biofuel volumes in the Renewable Fuel Standard and change the biofuel credits system.
"We are concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency's consideration of drastic, unprecedented changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard that would undercut investments in the production of American-made biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel," the groups said.
"The proposed changes are inconsistent with the law and threaten the growth and prosperity of the U.S. biofuels industry."
The letter is signed by the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, American Biogas Council, the American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Growth Energy, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, National Biodiesel Board, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, the Renewable Fuels Association and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.
Last week, the EPA announced in a notice a proposal to further reduce the renewable volume blend requirements for advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel volumes for 2018 and 2019, and the total renewable fuel volumes in the RFS.
The proposed reductions are in addition to the agency's proposal to cut those volumes already. The deadline for the final RFS is Nov. 30. The latest change will be subject to an additional 15-day public comment period.
Secondly, a report surfaced last week that EPA is considering a proposal from Valero Energy to leave renewable identification numbers, or RINs, attached to U.S. ethanol gallons produced in the United States and exported. Currently, RINs are removed from exported gallons. The biofuels industry is concerned that doing so would flood the market with RINs and harm domestic biofuel producers.
The groups said in the letter the EPA proposals are "also inconsistent with Administrator (Scott) Pruitt's assurances to uphold the law and your long-standing support of ethanol and the RFS.
"If the proposed changes are finalized, EPA's actions would cause severe harm to our industry, undermining your efforts to drive economic growth and secure America's status as the global leader in biofuel production."
The groups raise a number of concerns about EPA's direction on the RFS.
The final 2018 renewable volume obligation must require 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels, as proposed, they said in the letter.
"While EPA did not propose to invoke its general waiver authority to reduce the conventional biofuel requirement, it left the door open on the matter for the final rule," the letter said.
"We oppose any weakening of the conventional biofuel standard."
On the EPA's proposal to further reduce RFS volumes for advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol, the groups said the cuts "are unwarranted, and we have serious procedural concerns about how EPA reached its conclusions."
Back in August, DTN reported (http://bit.ly/…) the EPA originally proposed a much higher cellulosic ethanol number in its RFS proposal sent to the Office of Management and Budget in June, interagency review documents posted to the docket for the latest RFS volumes show.
The EPA originally called for 384 million gallons for the cellulosic renewable volume obligation, which would have been an increase above the 311 million gallons in 2017.
The June 23 version of the draft rule, however, set that number at 238 million gallons, making the total volumes in the RFS even lower.
In the July 21, 2017, proposed rule posted in the Federal Register, the EPA provided a rationale for its decision and announced a change in methodology for projecting cellulosic biofuel production.
In the letter to the president, the groups said the "new methodology should be dropped. The final proposal must be forward-looking and continue to grow advanced biofuel volumes."
On the proposed change to the RINs program, the groups said, "These proposals originate from the same small group of petroleum refiners seeking to avoid the law by moving the RFS point of obligation, and would serve no purpose other than to paralyze growth in U.S biofuel markets, slow investment in blending infrastructure, strand investment in advanced biofuels, and export innovation overseas."
In addition, the groups said, for the first time, the agency proposes excluding new cellulosic biofuels gallons from plants that are unable to secure registration from the EPA the year prior to the actual compliance year.
"While we would not expect EPA to allow non-registered fuels to be eligible for compliance credits, there is no harm in receiving registration early in the compliance year and selling fuel thereafter," the groups said.
"There is no better example of over-regulation than this one. If finalized, the new approach would slow down, rather than accelerate, the commercialization of cellulosic fuels."
Bob Dinneen, chief executive officer and president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the EPA proposals run contrary to the president's stated support for biofuels.
"President Trump has been a strong and consistent supporter of fuel ethanol generally and the RFS specifically," he said. "However, recent proposals by EPA appear to run counter to the president's renewable energy vision. We want to ensure a strong RFS is maintained, providing consumers with the cleanest, lowest-cost and highest-octane fuel on the planet."
Jeff Broin, chief executive officer of Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Poet LLC, said in a statement to DTN he's concerned the EPA is allowing the oil industry's influence to grow when it comes to federal biofuels policy.
"The oil industry is concocting new ways to cut biofuel volumes and aggressively pushing the EPA to roll back the growth of homegrown renewable fuels," he said.
"Approving any of these proposed measures would be a severe blow to our nation's public health, air quality and national security. These actions would put millions of dollars into the hands of a few oil companies at the expense of American consumers, family farmers and biofuel producers. President Trump has repeatedly committed to protecting the RFS, and we remain hopeful that he will hold his administration accountable and keep the EPA from following the dangerous path laid out by the oil industry."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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