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UPDATE 3-EPA sets U.S. biofuels targets slightly higher for 2018

(Recasts with EPA announcement)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday it will require fuel companies to blend slightly more biofuels into the nation's gasoline and diesel next year, reversing a previous proposal for a small cut.

The concession comes after Midwestern lawmakers and representatives of the corn industry had pressured the administration to reject proposals from their rivals in the oil industry to water down U.S. biofuels policy.

"Maintaining the renewable fuel standard at current levels ensures stability in the marketplace and follows through with my commitment to meet the statutory deadlines and lead the Agency by upholding the rule of law," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release announcing the targets.

The targets will require fuel companies to blend 19.29 billion gallons (73.02 billion liters) of renewable fuels into the nation's fuel supply in 2018, up slightly from the 19.28 billion gallons required for 2017.

That will include 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels like corn-based ethanol, in line with 2017, and 4.29 billion gallons of so-called advanced biofuels, up from 4.28 billion in 2017, the EPA said. Advanced or second-generation biofuels are made from lignocellulosic biomass or woody crops, agricultural residues or waste.

For 2019, the EPA set a target for biodiesel at 2.1 billion gallons, unchanged from 2018.

The targets adhere to the EPAs proposal made in July for both conventional biofuels and biodiesel, but reverses a proposal to slightly reduce total advanced volumes to 4.24 billion gallons in 2018.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a vocal supporter of the biofuels industry, said he was disappointed by the EPA targets, particularly the lack of an increase for biodiesel levels in 2019.

"The EPAs announced renewable volume obligations fall short of the full potential of the U.S. biofuels industry," he said in a statement.

The U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels into gasoline and diesel every year, as a way to boost U.S. agriculture, slash energy imports, and cut emissions.

The law, introduced more than a decade ago by then-President George W. Bush, has been a boon to the corn belt, but has angered the oil industry, which sees biofuels as competition and which has been burdened with the costly responsibility of blending the fuels.

After consultations with the oil industry, the EPA had opened the door to cuts to the biofuels volumes targets, but eventually backed off under heavy pressure from Midwest lawmakers. (Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)