The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, October 11th sought to calm a furor over its apparent proposal to reduce ethanol use in gasoline next year, saying that no final decisions had been made about the contentious mandate.
Reuters and other news outlets reported on EPA documents that showed the agency proposing an unexpected drop in the amount of corn-based ethanol that would be required for blending next year, a historic retreat from the 2007 biofuel law and a major victory for the oil industry.
“At this point, EPA is only developing a draft proposal,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement in the agency’s first public response to the reports.
She said the Obama Administration remained “firmly committed” to developing biofuels as a part of the plan to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
Coming after months of an intensifying lobbying and political battle between oil refiners and ethanol groups, the reports were met with immediate skepticism from many in the biofuel industry, some questioning the documents’ authenticity.
Growth Energy, a leading ethanol group, called for U.S. agencies to investigate the leak of what it called “unverified ‘draft’ documents” that were still under review, a process stalled by the government shutdown.
The EPA statement made no specific mention of the draft documents, but acknowledged some of the challenges in increasing use of biofuel. Under the reported proposal, the EPA appears to back the oil industry argument that it is not feasible to inject more than 10 percent ethanol into gasoline at the moment due to concerns over engine damage and liability.
“No decisions will be made on the final standards without a full opportunity for all stakeholders to comment on the EPA’s proposed 2014 renewable fuel standards and be heard on how to best foster a growing biofuels industry that takes into account infrastructure- and market-related factors,” McCarthy said.
The EPA documents seen by Reuters could not be independently verified. They were dated Aug. 26 and Sept. 6, around the same time that the agency submitted its proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
After the OMB reviews the proposal it will be sent back to the EPA, which will release it for public comment. Only after that does the EPA finalize the rule. The process has been slowed by the partial government shutdown.