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Biden administration delays aviation fuel emissions model

Published 03/01/2024, 11:09 AM
Updated 03/01/2024, 05:27 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aircraft departs from Harlingen, Texas, U.S. February 28, 2024.  REUTERS/Veronica Gabriela Cardenas/File Photo

By Jarrett Renshaw and Leah Douglas

(Reuters) -The Biden administration on Friday said its new climate modeling for sustainable aviation fuel feedstocks will be released in a matter of weeks, marking a delay sources said was due to disagreements over details of the revisions.

The slow progress on the revised modeling has frustrated the biofuels industry by extending uncertainty over whether corn-based ethanol will be able to qualify for lucrative new subsidies for SAF production included in the Inflation Reduction Act.

A White House spokesperson said the revised model would be finalized in the coming weeks.

The administration has been divided for months on how to implement the IRA's $1.25-per-gallon SAF tax credit, which requires producers to prove a 50% greenhouse gas emissions reduction over petroleum jet fuel.

The ethanol industry wants to become a major SAF supplier but has to show its climate benefit using an approved model.

The Biden administration in December said it would allow the industry to use its favored model - the Department of Energy's Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) model - but only after revisions. Sources told Reuters at the time that new guidance would arrive on March 1.

But that has now been delayed after a Thursday meeting at the White House involving key players from various agencies failed to resolve outstanding issues over the model revisions, according to the two sources familiar with the meeting.

Environmental groups have argued that a revised model should assign a higher penalty to ethanol for the carbon released when land is tilled for crops to provide a more accurate accounting of the fuel's emissions.

"We are making progress on critical decisions for updating the model and issuing additional Treasury guidance, including the integration of key greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies and climate-smart agriculture practices," the White House spokesperson said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in comments at the Commodity Classic in Houston said that the delay was to ensure that the administration got the guidance right.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan at the conference said that the agency is committed to meeting the administration's goal of 3 billion gallons of SAF production annually by 2030.

The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The eventual revisions will likely stop short of allowing ethanol to automatically qualify as a feedstock for the SAF tax credit, forcing the industry to cobble together other practices like using solar power and sustainable farming to push them above the eligibility threshold, the sources said.

One of the remaining dividing lines among officials is how to verify that farms are utilizing climate-smart agricultural techniques, the sources said.

"You have to have a process by which you can verify that what you say you're doing, you're actually doing. Well, that's a whole different conversation. It's complicated," said Vilsack at a press conference in Houston.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aircraft departs from Harlingen, Texas, U.S. February 28, 2024.  REUTERS/Veronica Gabriela Cardenas/File Photo

"This delay is frustrating, but we’re optimistic that it’s happening for a productive reason," said Emily Skor, CEO of biofuel trade group Growth Energy.

"Ultimately, what’s most important is getting it right, and making sure that the resulting updates provide real opportunities for American farmers to contribute to the SAF market," she said.

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