U.S. Department of Agriculture

New RFS mandates: 'Christmas in May' or 'divorced from reality'?

Ethanol supporters on Friday charged it was "Christmas in May” for oil companies when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to use its waiver authority to set Renewable Fuel Standard mandates through 2016 well below statutory levels. But oil and refining groups were no kinder, saying that EPA's proposed vision for ethanol growth is “divorced from reality” and pressing for reform or repeal of the entire program.

The three years of proposals, to the ire of ethanol boosters, explicitly acknowledged the “blend wall,” the 10-percent mark where refiners say ethanol saturates the consumer fuel market because engines can't safely take any more of the renewable fuel. Ethanol groups said that the argument is simply an effort to dodge requirements.

9 states back Utah ruling tossing federal prairie dog rules

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nine states have stepped into a lawsuit over the Utah prairie dog to support a ruling that animal activists say threatens to undermine the Endangered Species Act.

The attorneys general asked an appeals court to uphold a ruling striking down federal protections for the Utah prairie dog on private property. They argued that federal authorities shouldn't be managing animals that live only within state borders.

Oil

Timeline of the California oil spill and response

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — On May 19, an underground pipeline on California's Central Coast leaked up to 101,000 gallons of crude oil. It fouled nearby beaches, and an estimated 21,000 gallons flowed into the ocean. It was the worst spill in the area since a platform blowout in 1969 spilled several million gallons and helped give rise to the modern environmental movement.

California beaches to remain closed after oily goo washes up

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A 7-mile stretch of Southern California coastline where globs of oily goo washed ashore will remain closed until officials determine the water is safe for swimmers and surfers, authorities said Friday.

The popular beaches on Santa Monica Bay will stay shut down indefinitely as crews collect the remaining tar balls and tar patties that began washing up Wednesday, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Michael Anderson said.

Oil

US oil and natural gas rig count drops by 10 to 875

HOUSTON (AP) — Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. declined by 10 this week to 875.

Houston-based Baker Hughes said Friday 646 rigs were seeking oil and 225 explored for natural gas. Four were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, with oil prices nearly double the current levels, 1,866 rigs were active.

Fuel and potential fires for the US economy ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy shrank at the start of the year, but the road ahead looks brighter. Just how much brighter is what's up for debate.

Steady hiring and low gas prices should help power solid growth through the rest of 2015. The harsh winter and a labor dispute that slowed trade at West Coast ports are both over. Home sales and construction are rebounding, along with business investment.

Where they stand: Rick Santorum on key campaign issues

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A look at where former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum stands on some key issues as he opens his race for the Republican presidential nomination:

White House vow to veto fishing law changes sparks fight

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A White House pledge to veto proposed changes to federal fishing laws has divided fishermen over whether the rule changes should be saved or scrapped.

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has proposed a bill to change the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to provide fishery managers with more flexibility in rebuilding fish stocks. The bill includes a provision that fishery regulators should be able to consider the "economic needs of the fishing communities" in setting annual catch limits.

EPA acknowledges blend wall, proposes RFS levels below statute

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday unveiled its proposed biofuel volume mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014, 2015 and 2016, using its waiver authority to keep biofuel levels below statutory levels.

The agency acknowledges the "blend wall” identified by the refining and oil industry and decried by the ethanol industry.

Overall renewable fuel production goals are proposed at 15.93 billion gallons for 2014, consistent with actual use. The proposal rises to 16.30 billion gallons for 2015 and 17.40 billion gallons in 2016, with most of the increases coming from advanced biofuels, biodiesel and cellulosics. They remain below targets set by the law that created the standard.

"We believe that these proposals are achievable and consistent with Congress's clear intent to drive renewable fuel use up, even as we use the authority Congress provided the EPA to manage the program responsibly," Acting Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe said.

The blend wall is what refiners call the point where, they contend, the consumer market for blended fuels becomes saturated. They say the existing consumer market can't handle renewable fuel blending beyond 10 percent because of limitations in vehicle engine technology. 

The proposal sets a 9.02 percent blend for 2014. For 2015, the proposed blend rises to 9.04 percent, reaching 9.63 percent in 2016. 

EPA will take comment until July 27 and aims to finalize the mandates by November 30.

With RFS imminent, industries brace for 'blend wall' fate

The Environmental Protection Agency is prepared to release three years’ worth of Renewable Fuel Standard blending proposals as early as today, and biofuel, oil and refining industries are anxious to see what the long-delayed proposals have in store, especially when it comes to the so-called “blend wall.”

Although an agency spokesperson wouldn’t confirm that the proposals for 2014, 2015 and 2016 would be released Friday, industry groups were convinced that EPA would beat its June 1 deadline by a couple of days. But regardless of what the proposals reveal, their positions on the RFS would be unlikely to change.

Wisconsin governor: Obama power plant rule 'unworkable'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican eyeing a presidential run in 2016, says President Barack Obama's plan to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants is "unworkable."

Wisconsin will not comply with the president's plan without "significant and meaningful changes," Walker said. Obama's proposal is aimed at curbing the pollution blamed for global warming.

US officials revive oil train safety order after complaints

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. transportation officials are extending an order for railroads to notify states about shipments of hazardous crude oil shipments.

Emergency responders had raised worries over a new rule that did away with the requirement.

Oil

Federal agency dings Shell for oil rig mishap in Arctic

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — As Royal Dutch Shell PLC seeks permits for exploratory oil drilling off Alaska's northwest coast, a federal agency has concluded the company underestimated risk the last time it moved drill rigs to Arctic waters.

A National Transportation Safety Board report issued Thursday said the probable cause of the grounding of the company's mobile drilling vessel, the Kulluk, in 2012 was "Shell's inadequate assessment of the risk for its planned tow" across the Gulf of Alaska.

Oil

Response by operator of broken oil pipeline faces scrutiny

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters, emergency workers and officials from Plains All American Pipeline had gathered last week at a fire station preparing to train for the worst — an oil spill — when a 911 call came in reporting a noxious smell in the air at a nearby beach.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department rushed to the shoreline, where they discovered oil flowing across a beach and into the Pacific. What was supposed to be a drill turned real.

California beaches could be open again as mystery goo fades

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Seven miles of shutdown Southern California beaches, their surf made sticky by an oily goo of mysterious origin, could soon reopen if cleanup continues at the current clip.

Crews scouring the beaches had scooped up truckloads of it Thursday and the area might be clean enough to reopen Friday, authorities said.

UN nuke agency reports that Iran probe stalled

VIENNA (AP) — Amid accelerated international efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, the U.N. atomic agency on Friday reported that work on a key element — an assessment of allegations that Tehran worked on atomic arms — remains essentially stalled.

After years of deadlock, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed in November 2013 on a new attempt to probe the accusations. The U.S. and its allies also included the investigation into a to-do list for talks with Iran meant to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief.

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