Renewable fuel and energy sector organizations used the comment period for the EPA’s upcoming Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements to discuss how the agency should handle an ongoing debate over the use of the program’s small refiner exemptions.

The comment period closed Friday, and more than 288,000 comments had been received as of Friday afternoon; more are expected to trickle in throughout the day. Familiar points of contention emerge on both sides of the issue: Biofuel supporters call on the EPA to include a reallocation provision to ensure production waived through small refiner exemptions is still accounted for, and refiner interests argue the agency should do no such thing.

But those comments may fall on deaf ears at the EPA, not because of any sort of political spite, but because the agency warned it would not consider the reallocation issue through the rulemaking.

“EPA is not soliciting comments on how small refinery exemptions are accounted for in the percentage standards formulas,” the agency said in its solicitation for comments, “and any such comments will be deemed beyond the scope of this rulemaking.”

That didn’t stop groups from chiming in. The National Corn Growers Association went as far as to deem it “offensive to farmers that EPA does not believe our comments on this issue are worth soliciting and considering.”

"While EPA may not want feedback on how the agency is failing to maintain the integrity of the RFS and administer the volume standards in accordance with the law, corn farmers will provide that feedback nonetheless and make our voices heard,” NCGA said in its comments.

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In a summary letter atop its comments, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen noted RFA’s appreciation for the agency setting increased blending levels – 19.88 billion total gallons, 15 billion of which is earmarked for conventional ethanol – but said a failure to address the exempted gallons “will render the proposed volumes meaningless.”

“Thus, we do not consider the volumes that appear in the proposed rule to be authentic, meaning the preamble’s analyses of the impacts of the 2019 proposed volumes … are flawed and indefensible,” Dinneen said. “Accordingly, it is difficult for stakeholders to provide meaningful input on proposed RVOs that are broadly recognized as artificial.”

Other groups also had their say, with Growth Energy’s Emily Skor saying she hoped EPA’s new leadership “reverses course and gets back on the path of blending more gallons” of biofuels. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson echoed similar thoughts, saying the Trump administration “should follow through on their assurances to family farmers and rural residents that this administration will support biofuels and uphold the intent of Congress.”

Any proposal to reallocate waived gallons would – unsurprisingly – be met with stiff opposition from the oil industry. Speaking to reporters this week, Frank Macchiarola with the American Petroleum Institute said API is opposed to reallocation.

“The small refiner exemptions themselves are an example of a broken program, but the shifting of that burden to parties that are able to comply is an even greater inequity,” he said.

Macchiarola reiterated API’s long-held belief that the RFS needs to be either repealed or significantly reformed, but acknowledged the current “legislative realities are challenging.”

EPA will consider the comments before releasing a final rule to set 2019 Renewable Volume Obligations. That final rule is due by the end of November.

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