House lawmakers call for limited use of biofuel waivers

Bipartisan members urge EPA to reverse expansion of small refinery exemptions for large or unqualified refiners.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

May 8, 2019

3 Min Read
House lawmakers call for limited use of biofuel waivers

Calls for changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of small refinery exemptions (SREs) continue, as a letter from 35 House lawmakers urged EPA to stop issuing the biofuel waivers for large or unqualified refiners under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

Reps. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa) and Adrian Smith (R., Neb.) led a bipartisan group of 35 representatives in writing the letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in which the members highlight how the expansion of biofuel waivers hurts farmers who rely on demand for corn-based ethanol and other biofuels and has increased dependence on foreign oil.

“Our farmers and rural communities rely on a thriving biofuels market to support their families and create good-paying jobs," Axne said, noting that increasing the RFS waivers "not only threatens our energy security but stifles competition in an industry that is an economic driver and job creator across Iowa and the Midwest.”

Smith added that waiving the RFS "impedes the biofuels market and limits consumers’ options at the pump.”

EPA’s RFS program requires a specific, set volume of renewable fuels to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based fuels. Under the program, a small refinery can be granted a temporary exemption from RFS requirements if compliance would prevent them from being profitable.

Related:EPA to take comments on small refinery exemption methodology

However, EPA has recently loosened the requirements for SREs, enabling refineries owned by major oil companies to receive these waivers. “Not only have these waivers reduced the United States’ ability to meet our RFS goals, but they decrease the demand for Midwestern corn and bio=products and hurt our farmers,” the legislators said in a joint statement.

The Renewable Fuels Assn. said in statement it also urges EPA to “immediately stop excusing highly profitable oil refiners from their legal obligations to blend cleaner, lower-cost renewable fuels like ethanol. Further, we strongly agree with this bipartisan group that EPA must restore the renewable fuel blending requirements that were erased through these clandestine waivers.”

Growth Energy chief executive officer Emily Skor also applauded the lawmakers' efforts, saying, "At a time when grain markets have reached a 42-year low and there was an $11.8 billion decline in farm income the last quarter, our rural communities are continuing to be punished by the rapid escalation in small refinery exemptions by this Administration.

"There is no legal or rational explanation for why EPA has quadrupled the number of secret exemptions to the world's largest oil companies in the past 17 months," Skor said.

Related:Growth Energy sues EPA over small refinery exemptions

In addition to Axne and Smith, other members of the House signing the letter were: Reps. David Scott (D., Ga.), Darin LaHood (R., Ill.), Roger Marshall M.D. (R., Kan.), Kelly Armstrong (R., N.D.), Cheri Bustos (D., Ill.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D., Cal.), Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.), Steve King (R., Iowa), David Loebsack (D., Iowa), Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), Abby Finkenauer (D., Iowa), Don Bacon (R., Neb.), Lauren Underwood (D., Ill), Angie Craig (D., Minn.), Rodney Davis (R., Ill.), Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D., Ill.), Emanuel Cleaver II (D., Mo.), Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), Jim Hagedorn (R., Minn.), Ron Estes (R., Kan.), Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), Michael R. Turner (R., Ohio), Steve Watkins (R., Kan.), Tom O'Halleran (D., Ariz.), Tim Ryan (D., Ohio), Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.), Mike Bost (R., Ill.), Ron Kind (D., Wis.), Robin Kelly (D., Ill.), Bill Foster (D., Ill.) and James R. Baird (R., Ind.).

King also announced that he is drafting legislation to address an issue involving the use of renewable identification number waivers. Under King’s proposal, the volume requirements of the RFS must increase by the same amount of credited volume so that the obligations of the RFS cannot be evaded. The proposed legislation would apply retroactively, according to a statement from King's office.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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