UPDATE: A newly-released letter from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt included a commitment to finalizing biofuel volumes required under the Renewable Fuel Standard by Nov. 30, at volumes higher than or equal to the current proposed volumes. The letter, released by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, also included a pledge that the EPA would not make biofuel exports eligible for RINs.
"I reiterate my commitment to you and your constituents to act consistent with the text and spirit for the RFS. I take seriously my responsibility to do so in an open and transparent manner that advances the full potential of this program as envisioned by Congress, rural America, and the President of the United States,” wrote Pruitt in the letter.
In a statement, Ernst said she was "appreciative" of Pruitt’s commitments and she would continue to work with the EPA on biofuels and other issues.
- In a letter to President Trump, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, joined by the governors of Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota, expressed concern for how Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has acted regarding the renewable fuel standard (RFS). The governors said the EPA seeking comment on cuts to 2018-2019 RFS volumes, and signaling an intent to waive volumes for 2018, showed "a willingness to upend a decision producers and other stakeholders have already relied upon to make investments, contractual commitments and create jobs." In a press conference Wednesday, Reynolds said the administration was "feeling the pressure" and that biofuel supporters "can't let down."
- Following a meeting with Pruitt, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said he will watch the RFS "closely" and "hold the administration accountable," while Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said, "Administrator Pruitt again claimed today that he will not do anything to undermine the program. However, we have heard this before. We now need to see it." Ernst said she could not back a nominee to head an EPA office that runs the RFS without further assurances from the agency to protect the program, according to Bloomberg.
- According to an email from an EPA spokesperson, Pruitt and Reynolds had a call Wednesday morning, following his meetings Tuesday. "What Administrator Pruitt said in his confirmation hearing still stands: he doesn't want to take any steps to undermine the objectives in the statute of the RFS. We continue to work with RFS stakeholders to ensure EPA is applying the statute in a meaningful way, as Congress intended," the email read. A report from Reuters said Trump told Reynolds he remained committed to the RFS, though White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that there were no "assurances" or "definitive decision" had been made.
These concerns coming from policymakers in the Midwest is hitting the EPA just in time for the comment period to end — at 11:59 p.m. ET on Oct. 19. In the late summer, biogas producers and other industry associations, including the Solid Waste Association of North America, submitted letters and filed comment with the EPA, urging the administration to reconsider its proposed changes to the RFS.
In addition to hurting the ethanol market, a reduction in the renewable volume obligation (RVO) under the RFS could hurt the U.S. biogas industry. Recent anaerobic digestion projects, like in Philadelphia and Utah, could be signals that the U.S. market for biogas is starting to expand. However, a 23% reduction in the amount of cellulosic biofuel required under the RFS would not be an "insignificant," factor according to Maureen Walsh, director of federal policy for the American Biogas Council, in a previous interview with Waste Dive. That currently-proposed drop in required volume could harm biogas projects by shrinking the guaranteed market biogas producers would have to sell their product. Changes to the RFS program could also have an affect on the demand for fuel products created from landfill gas.
Any move to weaken the RFS would be tricky for Pruitt, politically. During and since his campaign, Trump talked about his support for the RFS. Republicans hold 11 seats on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) while Democrats hold 10. Any nomination for the EPA would have to go through the EPW, meaning just one Republican defection would block a nominee, assuming all the Democratic members of the committee object — giving any Republican, including Sen. Ernst, significant leverage over the EPA. With the comment period expiring at midnight, it will be important to watch developments out of the EPA to see where the biogas market may be headed.