Midwest Senators Press EPA to Review Three Trump Small-Refinery Exemptions

DTN, February 16, 2021- After a federal court granted a stay on three small-refinery exemptions granted by the Trump administration on the way out the door, a group of Midwest senators asked the EPA on Wednesday to review the three exemptions.

A number of biofuels and agriculture groups have filed several lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s use of the Renewable Fuel Standard exemption program.

In a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Jane Nishida, the senators ask the agency to take actions not only on the SRE program but on E15 and the 2021 renewable volume obligations for the RFS.

“As senators who represent states with large agriculture interests, we write to highlight the pressing concern of restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard and to alert you to pressing policy decisions that the administration must make to bring regulatory certainty to the transportation fuels sector of the economy,” the letter said.

“Your predecessor former Administrator Andrew Wheeler took action to exempt three unidentified oil refineries from their 2018 and 2019 Renewable Fuel Standard obligations under the Clean Air Act just hours before the inauguration. These exemptions betrayed earlier assertions made by the Trump administration that the Environmental Protection Agency would not grant or deny additional waivers pending the resolution of ongoing litigation over the use of the small-refinery waiver authority.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Ben Sasse, R-Neb.; Deb Fisher, R-Neb.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; M. Michael Rounds, R-S.D.; and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

In January 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver ruled EPA had “grossly exceeded” its authority by granting three small-refinery exemptions in 2016. On Jan. 8, 2021, the Supreme Court indicated its intention to review the 10th Circuit case, with oral arguments expected this spring.

“As this litigation is ongoing, we respectfully ask that you review the three waivers issued by Mr. Wheeler on Jan. 19, 2021,” the letter said.

“If these waivers do not meet the three-part test laid out in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals then we urge you to immediately reverse them and deny the refiners’ waiver requests.”

On Jan. 21, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ordered an administrative stay on the three exemptions.

“Because the 10th Circuit decision is the most definitive legal pronouncement to date regarding EPA’s small-refinery waiver authority, we encourage the agency to adhere to that decision for the purposes of deciding all pending exemption petitions during the pendency of the Supreme Court’s review of the decision,” the letter said.

In addition, the senators asked EPA to “swiftly” issue renewable volume obligations to the RFS for 2021. The Trump EPA missed the Nov. 30, 2020, deadline to finalize the rule. The senators also asked the agency to include in the rule 500 million gallons illegally waived by the agency in 2016.

“Finally, in order to continue growing the market for cleaner, lower-cost biofuels, we respectfully ask that EPA move forward with the E15 streamlining proposal that was published just days before the end of the previous administration,” the letter said

“Not only would the actions requested in this letter restore integrity to the RFS and revive confidence throughout our nation’s farm communities, but they would also help fulfill commitments made by President Biden to expand the use of environmentally friendly renewable energy sources.”

The Trump EPA granted 88 exemptions since 2016. The EPA still has 65 pending requests across multiple years.