December 20, 2018 / 7:36 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-Biofuel hardship waiver petitions to EPA rise to 22 as of mid-Dec -data

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WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has received 22 petitions for hardship waivers from U.S. biofuel requirements for the 2018 compliance year, data on its website showed on Thursday, up from 15 petitions in November.

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard requires oil refiners to blend biofuels like ethanol into their fuel each year or buy compliance credits from competitors that do. But it allows the EPA to exempt smaller plants if they show complying would cause financial hardship.

The EPA has vastly expanded the program under President Donald Trump. But farm-state lawmakers have complained that the waivers are being overused in a way that is killing demand for corn-based ethanol.

The agency is reviewing how it handles further requests as it seeks to balance the competing interests of refiners and ethanol producers.

Firms have until March of the following year to prove compliance for the calendar year.

The EPA granted 29 hardship waivers for compliance year 2017, the data showed, up from 19 for 2016 and just seven for 2015. Seven more petitions were pending review for compliance year 2017, while one was declared ineligible or withdrawn.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the agency had granted oil major Exxon Mobil Corp a hardship waiver, temporarily freeing its Montana refinery from U.S. biofuel laws, the latest in a number of waivers secured by big oil firms such as Chevron and Andeavor.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Chris Prentice Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Rosalba O'Brien and Dan Grebler

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