Ethanol supporters sue EPA over waivers reportedly made in secret

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Ethanol wide landscape

WASHINGTON — The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), National Corn Growers Association, American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) and National Farmers Union (NFU), with support of Farmers Union Enterprises, have filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to challenge several waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reportedly granted in secret to profitable refining companies.

The decisions

The petitioners are challenging three EPA decisions to exempt refineries in Wynnewood, Oklahoma; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Woods Cross, Utah from the RFS requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The Wynnewood refinery is owned by Wynnewood Refining Co., a subsidiary of CVR Energy, and the Cheyenne and Woods Cross refineries are owned by Holly Frontier Corporation.

The companies have since estimated in financial disclosures that the exemptions have saved them a collective $170 million in compliance costs.

When Congress enacted the RFS program a decade ago, it sought to protect certain small refineries from the law’s impacts temporarily by providing an exemption for refineries with no more than 75,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil throughput.

After a two-year blanket exemption expired, Congress also allowed those same refineries to ask for extensions of the temporary exemption if they could show that compliance with the RFS program was causing that particular facility a “disproportionate economic hardship.”

Until late last year, EPA only granted a handful of exemptions per year. EPA denied many extension requests, presumably because the refineries failed to meet one or more of these requirements for an extension.

More exemptions

In recent months, EPA has granted over two dozen exemptions — without providing any basis for its reversal, according to farm groups.

“EPA is trying to undermine the RFS program under the cover of night,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO and president of RFA. “And there’s a reason it has been done in secret — it’s because EPA is acting in contravention of the statute and its own regulations, methodically destroying the demand for renewable fuels,” continued Dinneen.

“With the little information we’ve been able to piece together through secondary sources, it’s clear that EPA has been extending these exemptions to refineries that didn’t qualify for them.”

Although EPA typically publishes its proposed actions and final decisions in the Federal Register, EPA has not followed those protocols for small refineries; nor has EPA even informed the public by any means that it had received or acted on such carve-out requests.

Instead, the petitioners learned of the unprecedented number of exemptions second-hand, through media reports and secondary sources.

“EPA left us with no choice but to challenge their systematic cuts to ethanol blending in the U.S. by distorting the intent of the law to grant secret hardship waivers to refineries which in some cases exceed the definition of ‘small’ and fall short of demonstrating ‘disproportionate economic hardship,’” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE.

Improper handling

“EPA’s improper handling of the RFS has significantly cut demand for biofuels grown and produced by American family farmers and their communities,” according to Roger Johnson, president of NFU. “The success of the law lies in the requirement that certain amounts of renewable fuel be blended into our transportation sector. Yet EPA has unlawfully allowed massive refineries to skirt compliance with these requirements, effectively reducing the amount of renewable fuels blended into the transportation sector by more than one billion gallons.”

The petitioners say they are not challenging EPA’s underlying authority to exempt certain small refineries. Instead, they say they are challenging three granted exemptions as abuses of EPA’s authority.

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