WASHINGTON / CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced a target for biofuels to make up 30 percent of U.S. transportation fuels by 2050, a move that could strengthen an industry that has otherwise been battered by the Trump administration.
Refineries are currently required to blend 20.09 billion gallons of biofuel in 2020, or about 10% of projected crude oil production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
President Donald Trump has come under fire from the corn-based ethanol industry after its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted exemptions from the blending requirement for dozens of oil companies in the past two years .
The biofuel target, which also included achieving the 15% blending rate in 10 years, is part of a new department-wide sustainability initiative aimed at increasing agricultural production by 40% and reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector by 50% over the same period. . The environmental goal could also deflect criticism from farmers and ethanol producers in an election year.
“I really think this is maybe one of the easiest to do, going from E10 to E15… it’s a 50% increase,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said, at a press conference.
Ethanol producers were waiting to see the reaction from the EPA, which has thwarted the move towards a 15% blend rate in the past even as the USDA called for an increase in the production of base fuel. corn, said Todd Becker, general manager of Green Plains Inc, which operates 13 ethanol plants.
“I don’t think that’s an EPA-friendly ethanol,” Becker said. “I think they’re dragged into it kicking and screaming.”
The EPA said in a statement it looks forward to continuing to work with the USDA to support sustainable agriculture. He noted that he had approved the E15 for year-round sales in 2019.
Trump’s first term ends in 2021 and he is campaigning for re-election in November.
The plan stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s current approach to environmental issues. Trump called climate change a “hoax.” Over the past two years, the EPA has granted more than 30 biofuel waivers to refineries, including facilities owned by Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp.
The anger of the farming community over the administration’s ethanol policy continued and gave a potential opportunity to rival Democrats, who hope rural voters in corn-producing states such as Iowa will be more open to voting for a Democrat – or simply not participating on election day.
Reporting by PJ Huffstutter in Washington and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker