WASHINGTON — After many months of speculation to the contrary, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the 2017 Renewable Fuels Standard volume obligations will meet the goals set by Congress.

The EPA set next year’s volume from conventional corn-based ethanol at 15 billion gallons, matching the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that called for 14.4 billion gallons in 2014 and then a cap of 15 billion gallons each year after.

Last May, EPA proposed requirements that refineries blend 18.8 billion gallons of biofuels, including 14.8 billion gallons from corn-based ethanol.

EPA maintained the biomass-based diesel volumes at 2.1 billion gallons for 2018, the same level in last spring’s proposal. That represents a 100 million-gallon increase from 2017 and is roughly the same amount of biomass-based diesel that was utilized in the U.S. in 2015.

Some other key elements of EPA’s action:

  • The standard for biomass-based biodiesel — which must achieve at least 50 percent lifecycle greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to petroleum-based diesel — grows by 100 million gallons. The required volume of biomass-based diesel for 2017 is twice that of the minimum congressional target.
  • Cellulosic biofuel — which must achieve at least 60 percent lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions — grows 35 percent over the 2016 standard.
  • The advanced biofuel standard — comprised of biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel and other biofuel that achieves at least 50 percent lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions — increases 19 percent over the 2016 standard.
  • Total renewable fuel volumes grow 1.2 billion gallons from 2016 to 2017, a 6 percent increase.

“Renewable fuel volumes continue to increase across the board compared to 2016 levels,” said Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.

“These final standards will boost production, providing for ambitious yet achievable growth of biofuels in the transportation sector. By implementing the program enacted by Congress, we are expanding the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing our reliance on imported oil.”

Ethanol supporters and detractors were out to voice their opinions on the move.

“While our industry has shown that higher volumes of biomass-based diesel can and will be produced and consumed, this final rule elevates the growth trajectory for our cleaner, lower carbon intensity advanced biofuel. Biomass-based diesel will continue to lead the way.”

Corn boost

“Corn farmers are thankful this week for a large corn crop, and now, based on U.S. EPA’s announcement regarding the ethanol blending numbers for our nation’s fuel supply, they can also be thankful for an improved demand picture for that large corn crop. The RFS is an important part of the ethanol demand for corn farmers, but it’s just one path toward moving more of our homegrown fuel into a market that is looking for high octane, low-carbon fuel choices at the pump.”

Helps climate

“Farmers and ranchers face substantial challenges in a changing climate; today’s announcement encourages family farmers to join in building climate resilience. A regulatory environment that promotes investment in renewable fuels and advancement in biofuels is critical to involving the agriculture community in mitigating the impact of climate change. By properly implementing the RFS, we can collectively do more to meet the administration’s broader climate goals.”

Many benefits

“The agency’s decision to meet the statutory requirement reflects an acknowledgement of the economic and energy security benefits that Congress envisioned from biofuels when lawmakers created the RFS 11 years ago. Biofuels offer a cleaner alternative to petroleum-based fuels and the decision to increase the blending levels in 2017 sends a clear signal to investors that growth in the sector is back on course.”

Consumers may suffer

“Increasing the volume of higher ethanol fuel blends through this federal mandate is irresponsible and could put consumers on the hook for unnecessary repair bills. We are disappointed that EPA has taken a step backward with this final rule. The RFS mandate is a bad deal for the American consumer. This announcement only serves to reinforce the need for Congress to repeal or significantly reform the RFS. Democrats and Republicans agree this program is a failure.”

More needed

“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. 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.”

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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