Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan offered renewable fuel advocates a sign of hope Tuesday as he offered comments on what he wants to see from the looming biofuel volumes the agency is expected to propose later this year.

Speaking to the Growth Energy Biofuels Summit, Regan said he anticipated the upcoming Renewable Volume Obligations – which set blending targets under the nation’s biofuel usage mandate – will leave room for growth in the industry.

“The safest thing for me to say, since we’re in this stage that we are in the process, is... we want to continue to grow … we don’t want to take any steps backwards,” Regan said Tuesday. “I believe that what we’re proposing will continue the progress that we’ve made up until this point.”

The volumes are expected to be proposed by Nov. 16 in line with a consent decree reached between EPA and Growth Energy in July. The decree requires the proposal to be finalized by June 14, 2023.

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor was encouraged by Regan’s comments, including some of the detail he offered on plans to couple RVO growth with language in the Inflation Reduction Act to offer tax incentives that could bolster the biofuels industry. The industry has previously lobbied for EPA to set the conventional biofuel target – met by traditional corn ethanol – at 15 billion gallons annually. Now, Skor says 15 billion gallons is “a floor for us.”

“We’re going to rely on growth in the advanced pool as well, so a lot of our conversation is focusing on making sure that they are accounting for all of the innovation taking place in this space,” she said, specifically mentioning pending renewable diesel capacity and corn kernel biofuels pathways. “That’s cellulosic ethanol that’s being produced.”

Skor said Growth Energy was also planning to push for updated modeling in the next set of volumes, which is widely expected to include multiple years' worth of targets.

Regan also said EPA plans to move forward on a petition from eight states to allow for summertime sales of E15 within their borders following the loss of a national waiver due to a 2021 court ruling. Those states – Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin – petitioned the EPA for the authority to do so in April following the Biden administration’s move to use emergency authority to allow summertime sales of the fuel for 2022.

But he says the process will take time to ensure it is on sound legal footing.

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“What I think EPA has learned, especially the career staff, is when we rush and do things or we don’t follow the science or follow the law, it ends up in court and we all end up waiting in suspense,” Regan said. “We want to do this correctly, and I believe we’re taking all the appropriate steps we need to take to do this in a manner that will meet the 2023 ozone season but also meet the letter of the law.”

Speaking to reporters following his remarks, Regan was more pointed, saying “we will have it done in time for the 2023 ozone season, so we’re working on a timeline to meet that request of the governors.”

That action, while it would accommodate the bulk of the national E15 sales year-round, would still leave the agency searching for a national solution to the matter. A permanent fix could be accomplished through legislation, something Skor noted has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill but also is running into roadblocks.

“Right now, there’s opposition, and what they’re saying is there’s got to be some kind of concession. And there really shouldn’t be, so that’s the conversation we’re having on the legislative front,” she said.

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