WASHINGTON, May 30 (UPI) -- The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed reducing the required ethanol levels in gasoline below what Congress asked for eight years ago -- upsetting many American farmers and members of the renewable fuel industry.
The EPA proposal calls for a slower rise ethanol levels to be mixed with gasoline through 2015 and 2016. The levels will still rise by billions of gallons, but they won't meet the quotas asked for by Congress in 2007.
The EPA Friday asked for 16.3 billion gallons of alternative fuels to be mixed with gasoline this year -- and 17.4 billion gallons next year. When the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was introduced in 2007, Congress asked for 20.5 and 22.3 billion gallons for those years, respectively.
The new numbers angered many American farmers who supply corn for ethanol production, as well as environmentalists and advocates of renewable fuels -- some of whom view the reduction as a move to appease the oil lobby by keeping gas prices high and stifling the alternative fuels market.
The EPA, however, said President Barack Obama remains committed to advancing the use of biofuels -- but noted that its proposed reduction is simply more in-line with realistic goals. The agency called its plan "ambitious, but responsible."
The agency said Congress's 2007 quotas are not compatible with current market conditions, given production and consumption changes that have occurred since they were put in place, USA Today reported.
The EPA noted that 2016 will see 1.5 billion more gallons of ethanol in gasoline than 2014 saw.
Officials said motorists who use ethanol-gasoline mixtures in their vehicles probably won't notice much change with the coming levels. However, Midwest farmers and ethanol-makers -- whose livelihood is tied to the 2007 Standard -- might.
"Today's announcement represents a step backward for the RFS," Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said. "The frustrating fact is the [EPA] continues to misunderstand the clear intent of the statute -- to drive innovation in both ethanol production and ethanol marketing."
But the EPA believes it would be irresponsible to impose Congress's original quotas because non-corn-based ethanol production has been slower than anticipated, gas consumption has not kept up with forecasts, and higher ethanol mixtures like E15 and E85 have not yet been widely accepted. Most current gas blends are made with 10 percent ethanol (E10), USA Today's report said.
Friday's proposal to limit the rise of ethanol levels in gas might also have another substantial impact -- in voting booths 17 months from now, when key Midwest voters help elect the next president.
Some analysts say those put off by the EPA's move could blame President Obama, and they subsequently may refuse to vote for another Democrat to succeed him in January 2017.
The EPA is expected to finalize the new standards by Nov. 30.