OMAHA (DTN) -- EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler gave no timeline for releasing 2021 renewable volume obligations in the Renewable Fuel Standard or for deciding on pending small-refinery exemptions, during a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, as pressure mounts on the Trump administration to act.
With just 69 days before the presidential election Wheeler said the agency continues "working through" both issues.
"On vehicle miles traveled, miles are down," he told reporters, indicating the economic shutdown could affect RFS volumes for 2021.
"With COVID impact on corn growers and refiners we're trying to understand what the market is going to be. We hope to have the RVO out as soon as we can. We have a lot more data points. We're proud we've done it on time the first three years."
In order to make the Nov. 30 deadline on RVOs the agency needed to release its proposal at the end of June. That didn't happen.
Wheeler pointed to the Obama administration's record on releasing RVOs on time, saying Obama was late by two years at one point.
In addition, the EPA has 98 pending requests for small-refinery exemptions, including 67 retroactive requests dating back to 2011.
"We have to weigh all the issues very carefully," Wheeler told reporters. "We have to be very thorough in our reviews," noting the agency is likely to face additional lawsuits no matter what it decides.
RFA HEAD PLEADS FOR ACTION
The rural American vote was an important factor in Donald Trump's 2016 election victory. Farmers asked in the latest DTN Agriculture Confidence Index phone survey how they would vote if the election was held now. Seventy-one percent said they would likely vote to retain the Trump administration. While a solid majority, that is significantly lower than the 89% of farmers who said they would vote that way in the April 2020 DTN survey.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday, Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper asked the agency to take a number of actions to bring more "certainty and stability" to the RFS.
"By disregarding statutory deadlines, flouting court decisions, and failing to make timely decisions, the Environmental Protection Agency is undermining predictability and confidence in the renewable fuels market and abetting longtime opponents of the RFS who perpetually seek to destabilize the program," Cooper said in the letter.
"Consequently, I write today imploring EPA to swiftly resolve a litany of unsettled RFS matters in a manner that is consistent with both the purpose of the Clean Air Act and the spirit of President Trump's commitments."
Cooper called on Wheeler to adopt a January 2020 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decision on small-refinery exemptions and adopt it nationwide; to deny 67 pending retroactive waiver requests; to apply the court's decision on 31 pending exemption requests for 2019 and 2020; to publish a 2021 RVO rule; and to restore 500 million gallons of ethanol to the RFS, as ordered by a federal court.
If the 98 pending waiver requests are granted, Cooper said the industry stands to lose about 4.6 billion gallons in demand in addition to the 4 billion gallons of demand already lost from 85 previous waivers granted.
"Mother nature, international trade disputes, and a global pandemic have created a perfect storm that is wreaking economic havoc across Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and countless other Midwest states," Cooper said in the letter.
"Today, more than ever, farmers need the certainty and stability that the RFS was intended to provide. These actions will return integrity to the RFS and uphold the commitments of President Trump."
BIDEN TAKES SHOT AT TRUMP
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden fired a shot across the bow in a statement on Tuesday, calling out the Trump administration's handling of the RFS.
"Instead of standing with those who till our land and sow our fields, we have a president who has sold out our farmers by undercutting the Renewable Fuel Standard with the granting of waivers to big oil," Biden said.
"Those waivers severely cut ethanol production, costing farmers income and ethanol plant workers their jobs. Now, President Trump refuses to announce the 2021 renewable fuel production levels until after the election, leaving farmers concerned of further cuts to production. The Renewable Fuel Standard marks our bond with our farmers and our commitment to a thriving rural economy. Donald Trump doesn't respect that connection, and he's thrown it away to the detriment of generations of producers across the Midwest and around the country -- many of whom put their trust in him four years ago."
Biden said the previous administration "kept our word to farmers. A Biden-Harris administration will promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels to help rural America and our nation's farmers, and will honor the critical role the renewable fuel industry plays in supporting the rural economy and the leadership role American agriculture will play in our fight against climate change."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
(c) Copyright 2020 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.