Pruitt discusses administration of RFS program during hearing

By Erin Voegele | December 07, 2017

On Dec. 7, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce to provide testimony on the mission of the EPA. The Renewable Fuel Standard was among the topics discussed during the hearing, which spanned several hours.

Pruitt stressed the importance of the agency releasing final 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) by the Nov. 30 statutory deadline. He said delays in the past have created uncertainty in the market and impacted capital outlays in the biofuels industry. It was very important to me to meet the Nov. 30 deadline, he said.

He said that the agency has tried to focus its efforts on objective criteria when setting RVOs, including “production levels and/or demand.” For example, he noted that, to date, the highest annual cellulosic production level has been in the 180 to 190 million gallon range. Yet, he said the EPA has historically set the RVO at approximately 300 million gallons. “When you set those levels artificially high, it creates problems elsewhere,” he said, and noted he thinks it’s very important that the EPA “is as objective as possible in setting those volume obligations to reflect production levels.”

“There are a lot of questions, obviously, around the administration of the RFS,” he said. “Please know that [the EPA is] committed to doing pursuant to that statutory framework that you have established, but at the same time that statutory framework is very challenging because the levels that have been set by statute have never been met, so we’ve got a lot of challenge there.”

Pruitt also briefly touched on renewable identification numbers (RINs), noting that he believes reform is needed in the RIN market. “We need to get some accountability in the RIN market,” he said “There is a lot of speculation that goes on with respect to RINs, there are enforcement issues, fraud that occurs…There is a lot to be done to get accountability and reform in the RIN market.”

When asked by a member of Congress to commit to setting the RVO for conventional ethanol below the blend wall, Pruitt said “I can’t commit to certain outcomes with the respect to that process. That is a rulemaking process.”

“But what I can tell you…we will objectively determine each year what the production levels look like they are going to be,” he said. “We’re tracking those numbers now. Biodiesel has been as big a challenge as the conventional. We routinely set that at 2.1 or higher…and as indicated we imported 700 million gallons of biobased diesel from Argentina to meet that 2.1 billion gallon limit. So, we ought not be dependent upon the people of Argentina to meet a volume obligation that we are setting domestically, so that is something we will continue to look at, but we can’t prejudge those outcomes at this point.”