The US Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it has submitted its final 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, the final step before the highly anticipated rule goes into force.
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But with OMB reviews typically taking about 90 days, the rule's contents may not be revealed until after the November 4 midterm elections, and the EPA in a statement did not tip its hand on what volumes of biofuels it will be requiring refiners to blend.
"After an extensive public outreach process, we've received 340,000 comments that will help inform our final determinations," the agency said. "EPA will issue a final rulemaking after the interagency review process has been completed."
The RFS requires annually increasing amounts of biofuels to be blended with the US transportation fuel supply, but the law gives the EPA some flexibility to adjust those volumes.
The EPA in November, to the shock of biofuels producers and the cheers of the oil industry, proposed a 2014 RFS that would for the first time cut the biofuels mandate. The proposed rule would require a total biofuels volume of 15.21 billion gallons, an 8% reduction from the 2013 requirement of 16.55 billion gallons.
Since then, the agency has been fiercely lobbied by both sides.
The biofuels industry has said lowering the volume would cause plants to close and increase US dependence on fossil fuels.
The refining industry has warned that the approaching blend wall, where ethanol blending requirements exceed 10% of gasoline demand, would cause hardship for consumers whose cars are not warrantied for higher ethanol blends, even though the EPA has approved blends of up to 15% ethanol for cars made in 2001 and later.
The 2014 proposal also calls for 2.2 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, 1.28 billion gallons of biodiesel and 17 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels.
Even with the numbers at the OMB, ethanol sources said they will not be holding their breath in anticipation.
With the mid-term elections just 74 days away from Friday and some key congressional races -- including the open Iowa Senate seat -- seeing heavy campaigning on the RFS, few believe the finalized mandate will be made public within the next two months.
"There's no way the White House lets those numbers see the light of day until after the elections," one ethanol trader at an obligated party said.
But analysts at ClearView Energy Partners noted that OMB has taken fewer than 90 days to finish a review in the past, including the 2013 RFS, when OMB took 34 days, and the proposed 2014 RFS, when OMB took 73 days.
"We would not be surprised if OMB were to replicate last year's rapid turnaround, particularly if the amount of time EPA devoted to finalizing last November's proposal corresponds to the degree of vetting that the rule received," ClearView Energy Partners said in a note to clients. "Should OMB complete its review in 30 days, we would expect the final rule in late September."
Corn-based ethanol (D6) RINs for 2014 have been stagnant in recent months and have not strayed more than 5 cents above or below 50 cents/RIN for the last two months, with traders saying they expect prices to remain range-bound until concrete RFS volumes are announced.
RINs are credits that obligated parties must acquire in order to demonstrate compliance with their RFS blending mandates. The credits are generated for each gallon of biofuel blended, and refiners who are short of their mandate can acquire them on the open market from others who have exceeded their mandate.
Many market participants have expressed frustration at the lateness of the 2014 RFS, which has impacted their planning for how many RINs they will need to be in compliance.
"I'm not taking a position on where values go," a trader at a non-obligated party said. "But if you're a blender and you have an RBO, you have to cover your obligation up to date. You don't want to be short when that announcement is finally made."