The announcement of final 2018 renewable fuels volumes brought a mixed bag of reaction Thursday.
Industry officials and lawmakers expressed disappointment that advanced biofuel amounts were largely flatlined, but they were grateful the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed volumes for traditional ethanol and abandoned earlier proposals they argued would do long-term harm.
The EPA announced Thursday that it will require 19.29 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the nation's gasoline supply in 2018.
The amount of conventional renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, was held steady at 15 billion gallons. But it was the volumes for advanced biofuels and biomass-based biodiesel that prompted widspread complaints among officials who had lobbied heavily for an increase.
Advanced biofuel levels for 2018 were set at 4.29 billion gallons, roughly the same as the 4.28 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, biomass-based biodiesel was set at 2.1 billion gallons for 2019, which represented no increase over the previous amount.
"These flat volumes will harm Americans across several job-creating sectors — be they farmers, grease collectors, crushers, biodiesel producers or truckers — as well as consumers," Doug Whitehead, chief operating officer of the National Biodiesel Board, said in a statement Thursday morning.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the new figures "fall short" of the industry's potential and aren't in keeping with Congress' intent to grow advanced fuels through the RFS.
"Contrary to that goal, this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels," he said.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he appreciated that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt "scrapped an earlier proposal and instead finalized a rule with higher levels for renewable fuels than the agency initially sought.”
"In October, I asked the administrator to develop a rule with stronger RFS volume requirements. It appears that he has done so, although I am disappointed that the volume requirement for biomass-based biodiesel is only 2.1 billion gallons when we can produce much more," King said in a statement.
Industry officials say biodiesel demand is greatly affected by the EPA's required levels, and that this new volume will stunt growth.
Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said the new figures "send a weak signal to the market at a time when our plants could significantly increase production and expand capacity."
This has been a tumultuous year for the biofuels industry, and for Midwest Republicans who backed President Donald Trump.
While campaigning for president in 2016, Trump promised to support renewable fuels. However, that promise was brought into question when Pruitt considered lowering biodiesel levels from the agency's initial July proposal. He also contemplated counting exports of traditional ethanol toward meeting the RFS mandate.
Both proposals brought a storm of protest on Capitol Hill and the industry, which said they would do long-term damage. Grassley called it a "bait and switch" and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, threatened to block a key EPA appointee.
The EPA, faced with refiners complaining the mandate is creating too heavy a burden, said it was just trying to balance competing interests. Eventually, though, Trump intervened and the proposals went by the wayside.
Even as officials expressed disappointment with the new advanced biofuel levels Thursday, they still praised the administration for upholding conventional ethanol amounts and backing off the potential structural changes.
“The Trump administration kept its commitment on not reducing volumes, and the numbers announced today uphold congressional intent while providing needed certainty for ethanol producers," Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said. "At the same time, while the levels for biodiesel are disappointing and do not capture the potential of the industry, I am optimistic the Trump administration will continue to advance biofuels and domestic energy production moving forward."
"Today, the EPA has upheld their commitment to set the volume requirements for conventional ethanol for 2018 approved levels, and I am pleased that this administration is keeping its pledge to rural America to support the RFS," Ernst added. She added she would continue to push for higher biofuel and cellulosic amounts.
The EPA also announced Thursday it is raising requirements for cellulosic ethanol to 288 million gallons for 2018. That's 50 million gallons higher than what the agency proposed in July but still lower than the 311 million set for 2017.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday that "this announcement shows that EPA Administrator Pruitt is listening to our concerns and taking them into consideration. But it also shows that we have more work to do."