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Senators urge EPA to reject retroactive biofuel blending

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Approval of SREs for past compliance years could worsen unprecedented economic challenges for biofuel industry.

A bipartisan letter from Midwest senators urged the Environmental Protection Agency to reject petitions for small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for past compliance years.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) led the letter with Sens. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) warning that granting these petitions would exacerbate the economic challenges the biofuel industry faces and demanding that EPA apply a decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals nationwide.

“We urge you to reject these petitions outright and respond in writing to our questions about recent use of SREs under the RFS. These petitions should not even be entertained because they are inconsistent with the 10th Circuit decision, congressional intent, the EPA’s own guidance and – most importantly – the interests of farmers and rural communities who rely on the biofuel industry,” the senators wrote.

“The approval of SREs for past compliance years at this moment would only worsen the unprecedented economic challenges facing the biofuels industry and the rural communities that it supports. EPA must deny these petitions and apply the 10th Circuit decision nationally,” the letter said.

Signing the letter with Klobuchar, Ernst, Duckworth and Grassley were Sens. Tina Smith (D., Minn.), Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Mike Rounds (R., S.D.), Gary Peters (D., Mich.), Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), John Thune (R., S.D.), Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and Deb Fischer (R., Neb.). 

The gap-year issue arose after a January decision by the 10th Circuit Court, in Renewable Fuels Association et al. vs. EPA, rejected a set of waivers granted that were not direct extensions of ones previously granted, as required by law. The case was brought against EPA by the Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA), the National Corn Growers Assn., the National Farmers Union and the American Coalition for Ethanol. In an attempt to circumvent the court decision, numerous refineries have now applied for retroactive waivers for years during which they did not originally ask for, or receive, a waiver. On June 18, EPA disclosed that 52 new petitions had been received, covering compliance years 2011 through 2018. In late May, RFA was the first to urge EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to deny any gap-year waivers that came forward.

Soybean farmers were appalled to learn that EPA is considering more than 50 petitions for retroactive SREs, Iowa Soybean Assn. president Tim Bardole noted. “This is just the latest in a string of attempts to sidestep the law, undercut the Renewable Fuel Standard and kill soybean demand,” Bardole said.

“The sole purpose of these retroactive exemptions is to circumvent the law at the expense of rural families struggling to get back on their feet," Growth Energy chief executive officer Emily Skor said. "There is no justification for allowing these petitions to hang over the market, injecting uncertainty into America’s agricultural recovery. EPA needs to dismiss the oil industry’s latest attempt to destroy demand for American biofuels and restore integrity to the RFS.”

Geoff Cooper, RFA president and CEO, said EPA’s failure to comply with the recent 10th Circuit Court decision is prolonging uncertainty and exacerbating economic harm in rural America, which was already reeling from the effects of COVID-19 on the agriculture and biofuel sectors.

“RFA agrees with these Senate leaders that granting ‘gap-year’ small refinery exemptions would not only be illegal, but it would also worsen the demand destruction that renewable fuel producers have already endured at the hands of EPA in recent years. We proudly join these senators in calling on EPA to immediately deny the ‘gap-year’ petitions and apply the 10th Circuit decision nationally,” Cooper noted.

TAGS: Policy
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