(Adds RIN prices, analyst comment, background)
By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON, July 31 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday extended for a third time the deadline for refiners to show compliance with 2013 federal biofuel use targets, a move quickly criticized by the oil industry.
Annual compliance reports would be due 30 days after the pending publication of the final rule on 2014 renewable fuels, the agency said on its website.
Thursday's move was the third extension of the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) compliance deadline, which was originally to have been Feb. 28 and was first pushed to June and then to September.
The EPA said the extension was necessary because refiners need to know their 2014 obligations before they can determine how many biofuel credits they may need to carry over from 2013 in order to comply with this year's requirements.
The final 2014 proposal is expected to be sent to the White House within weeks, at which point the long-delayed rule will enter its final review before public release.
But consideration of the proposal at the White House's Office of Management and Budget could also take several weeks.
"We're concerned this delay means EPA will further delay the final RFS requirements for this year," said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute. "The administration's inability to meet deadlines is a clear example of how the program is unworkable."
Carroll noted that the law governing the renewable fuel program requires EPA to finalize its volume requirements for 2015 by Nov. 30 "but we're still waiting for them to finalize requirements for this year."
The RFS requires increasing amounts of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol and soy-derived biodiesel to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply each year through 2022, peaking at 36 billion gallons.
The agency caused an uproar in the renewable fuel industry last autumn by lowering the proposed 2014 targets.
Many biofuel industry sources expect the EPA to slightly raise the proposed levels in the final rule but still leave them below the original mandate.
"EPA is likely to set targets that are closer to the proposed levels rather than levels called for by some stakeholders. We estimate that EPA has the latitude to increase the total ethanol requirement up to 13.6 billion gallons based on higher gasoline consumption estimates," said Timothy Cheung, research analyst at Clearview Energy Partners.
The more U.S. gasoline is used, the more ethanol that can be absorbed into the fuel supply at the 10-percent per gallon level most common at U.S. gasoline stations.
In the market for Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits, ethanol RINs for the 2014 compliance traded on Thursday at 52, 52.25 and 52.50 cents each, weaker after trading at 53 and 53.50 cents on Wednesday, brokers and traders said.
Biodiesel credits for 2014 traded at 55.50 cents, with sellers asking 56 cents later. They traded at 56 and 57 cents on Wednesday. (Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons in New York and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler and Marguerita Choy)