U.S. EPA has not decided on biofuel mandates, refinery exemptions: Wheeler

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at a hearing titled 'Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency' in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, U.S., May 20, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency has not made a decision on U.S. biofuel blending requirements for 2021 or on petitions from refiners asking to be exempted from past-year requirements going back to 2011, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Wednesday.

Wheeler could not assure that the agency will decide the 2021 Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) by the Nov. 30 deadline due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under U.S. law, refiners are required to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel mix, or buy credits from those that do.

“This has been a very unusual year as far as vehicle miles traveled, driving has been down,” Wheeler said on a call with reporters. “The COVID response has had a negative impact on both corn growers as well as refiners, and we’re trying to understand what the market is going to be and what we should expect for next year as far as the RVO is concerned.”

Wheeler said the agency hopes to decide next year’s obligations as soon as possible.

He added that the agency is weighing 67 pending petitions from refiners, asking to be exempted from obligations for years covering 2011-2018. Refiners that can prove financial harm from the obligations can apply for exemptions from the rules.

In January, an appeals court ruled that waivers granted to small refineries after 2010 had to take the form of an “extension.” Most recipients of waivers in recent years have not continuously received them, casting doubt on the whole program.

Refiners have sent in waiver applications to come into compliance with that court ruling, angering biofuel advocates who say exemptions hurt demand. The oil industry refutes that claim.

On Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration for its handling of the mandates.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Marguerita Choy