Despite early speculation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency once again would not abide by the original Renewable Fuel Standard for 2017 set by Congress, it turns out those concerns were all for naught.

The EPA released its RFS volumes last week for 2017-2018 that brought corn-based ethanol to its intended 15 billion-gallon cap originally set by lawmakers in 2007.

The agency initially proposed last spring 14.8 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol for 2017 and opened the issue up for a public hearing June 9 followed by public input through mid-July.

I was critical of the EPA’s proposal in this space when it first came out, so it’s only fair that I give kudos to the agency for doing what’s right and pushing the ethanol piece of RFS up to its intended top level.

The 15 billion-gallon level set by lawmakers was to have been met for 2015. That didn’t happen.

The remaining growth in RFS volumes will be left up to cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel.

This move by the EPA is at a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting record corn yields for this year’s crop and ending stocks of 2.403 billion bushels.

While ethanol volume requirements were set at the intended goal, soybean groups are disappointed that the EPA did not go higher with its biomass-based diesel volumes.

EPA chose to maintain the biomass-based diesel volumes at 2.1 billion gallons for 2018, the same level in the initial proposed rule last spring. While it represents a 100 million-gallon increase in the RFS biomass-based diesel volumes from 2017, it is roughly the same amount of biomass-based diesel that was used in the U.S. in 2015.

“The levels announced today provide opportunities, but also do not take full advantage of an opportunity to further promote a viable, domestically produced renewable fuel industry that is U.S. biodiesel,” said Richard Wilkins, American Soybean Association president.

“When EPA issued its proposed rule, ASA clearly stated that the 2.1 billion-gallon mark did not adequately capture the capacity of the biodiesel industry. To see the volume remain at 2.1 billion gallons as they were in the Proposed Rule is frustrating. We know we can do more.”

The biggest challenge now is to ramp up the advanced biofuel production to meet RFS levels.

Tom C. Doran can be reached at 815-780-7894 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @AgNews_Doran.

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