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EPA to release biofuels proposal by June 1

| Monday, May 25, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

NEW YORK — Authorities are set to shake up the nation's complex and contentious renewable fuels policy in the coming days, issuing requirements that are expected to affirm that the use of ethanol in motor fuels has hit a saturation point.

The Environmental Protection Agency has pledged by June 1 to release proposals for the amount of ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic fuels — made of plant waste — that must be mixed into motor fuel for 2014, 2015 and 2016 — targets that are as long as a year and a half behind schedule.

At stake, lobbyists and industry groups say, is the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a bedrock of two presidential administrations that is meant to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and shift the nation toward cleaner domestic energy sources.

For the corn lobby, which represents corn-based ethanol producers, the EPA's proposals will signal whether Big Oil is winning a battle over market share or whether the political tide can be turned back in ethanol's favor despite opposition from car manufacturers, among other industries.

Many biofuel advocates are bracing for bad news, according to lobbyists. They say the agency seems prepared to stick to its previous rationale for limiting ethanol use to the current 10 percent of blended motor fuel, the “blend wall” setting targets that fall short of those set out in the 2007 law.

“It would be crazy not to acknowledge the blend wall,” said Jeremy Martin of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which supported the EPA's cuts in 2013 but is in favor of a policy that encourages development of advanced biofuels.

For American regulators and policymakers, the proposalswill likely seek to walk a middle ground, pleasing few but hopefully keeping the RFS intact and holding off a legislative overhaul that some critics say is overdue.

The EPA's proposals are now under review at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which is set to face a wave of last-ditch lobbying that will run through the middle of next week, industry sources said.

The quota sizes and precise timing of an announcement are not known.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is committed to issuing the proposals by June 1 and finalizing volume standards by the end of this year. The agency will be setting standards for 2017 biodiesel targets on the same timeline.

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