The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has missed its statutory deadline to set 2021 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), Ethanol Producer reported on 30 November.

The EPA had also missed the 2021 RVO for biomass-based diesel.

While the biofuels sector had anticipated the delay, Ethanol Producer said industry representatives were concerned that, to date, the EPA had failed to release even an initial proposal for public comment.

The EPA is required to finalise annual RFS blending requirements for each compliance year by 30 November of the preceding year.

For biomass-based diesel, the RVOs are finalised one year earlier. To meet that deadline, a proposed rule is typically released in the spring or early summer, with a public comment period that closes several months before the statutory deadline.

The EPA delivered its proposed rule to set the 2021 RVO and the 2022 RSO for biomass-based diesel in mid-May to the White House Office of Management (OMB) and Budget.

Such proposed rules were usually released for public comment within a few months. However, this year, the OMB review of the proposed rule was still listed as ongoing nearly seven months later.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler had briefly commented on the expected delay in setting the 2021 RVOs during a visit to Wisconsin in August, Ethanol Producer said, saying the agency was facing unusual challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the EPA had sent a proposed rule to the OMB in May, Wheeler said the agency’s work on that rule-making package had been pre-COVID-19.

“The entire landscape has changed since then,” he said, noting that the refining and ethanol sectors had been hard hit by the pandemic.

Wheeler had indicated that the EPA was still trying to go through all the data to determine what effect COVID-19 would have on the 2021 RVOs.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request on 30 November for information on an updated RFS rulemaking timeline, Ethanol Producer said.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), it now made more sense to let the upcoming Biden administration handle the 2021 RVO rulemaking.

“We know it may take a few months for the new administration to get a final 2021 RVO rule done, but in the meantime, the statute is crystal clear that refiners must blend at least 15bn gallons of conventional renewable fuel in 2021,” said RFA president and CEO Geoff Cooper.

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) criticised the EPA’s failure to release even a proposed rule before the statutory deadline.

“While we have long understood the fact that EPA would miss the statutory deadline for finalising the 2021 blending volumes, the EPA’s utter failure to even put out the proposal is unacceptable,” said ACE CEO Brian Jennings.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) had also criticised the EPA for its delay, Ethanol Producer said.