The announcement of final 2018 renewable fuels volumes brought a mixed reaction in Iowa on Thursday.

Industry officials and lawmakers expressed disappointment that advanced biofuel amounts were largely flatlined, but they were grateful the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed volumes for corn-based ethanol and abandoned earlier proposals they argued would do long-term harm to the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The EPA announced Thursday that it will require 19.29 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the nation's gasoline supply in 2018.

The amount of conventional renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, held steady at 15 billion gallons. But it was the volumes for advanced biofuels and biomass-based biodiesel that prompted widespread complaints among officials who had lobbied heavily for an increase.

Advanced biofuel levels for 2018 were set at 4.29 billion gallons, roughly the same as the 4.28 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, biomass-based biodiesel was set at 2.1 billion gallons for 2019, which represented no increase over the previous amount.

"These flat volumes will harm Americans across several job-creating sectors — be they farmers, grease collectors, crushers, biodiesel producers or truckers — as well as consumers," Doug Whitehead, chief operating officer of the National Biodiesel Board, said in a statement Thursday morning.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the volumes "fall short" of the industry's potential and aren't in keeping with Congress' intent to grow advanced fuels through the RFS.

"Contrary to that goal, this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels," he said.

Industry officials say biodiesel demand is greatly affected by the EPA's required levels, and that this new volume will stunt growth.

Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said the new figures "send a weak signal to the market at a time when our plants could significantly increase production and expand capacity."

This has been a tumultuous year for the biofuels industry, and for Midwest Republicans who backed President Donald Trump.

While campaigning for president in 2016, Trump promised to support renewable fuels. However, that promise was brought into question when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt considered lowering biodiesel levels. He also contemplated counting exports of ethanol toward meeting the RFS mandate.

Both proposals brought a storm of protest on Capitol Hill and the industry, which said they would do long-term damage. Grassley called it a "bait and switch" and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, threatened to block a key EPA appointee.

The EPA, faced with refiners complaining the mandate is driving up its costs, said that it was just trying to balance competing interests. Eventually, though, President Trump intervened and the proposals went by the wayside.

Even as officials expressed disappointment with the new advanced biofuel levels Thursday, they still praised the administration for upholding ethanol amounts and backing off the potential structural changes.

"Today, the EPA has upheld their commitment to set the volume requirements for conventional ethanol for 2018 approved levels, and I am pleased that this administration is keeping its pledge to rural America to support the RFS," Ernst said. She added she would continue to push for higher biodiesel and cellulosic amounts.

The EPA announced Thursday it is raising requirements for cellulosic ethanol to 288 million gallons for 2018. That's 50 million gallons higher than what the agency proposed in July but still lower than the 311 million set for 2017.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday that "this announcement shows that EPA Administrator Pruitt is listening to our concerns and taking them into consideration. But it also shows that we have more work to do."

Contact Ed Tibbetts at etibbetts@qctimes.com.

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