44 members of Congress urge Trump to deny RFS waiver requests

Source: By Erin Voegele, Ethanol Producer Magazine • Posted: Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A group of 44 members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump on June 8 urging him to deny requests filed with the U.S. EPA by several governors seeking a waiver of 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements.

“We write to express our concern regarding recent requests to waive blending requirements under the [RFS],” the representatives wrote. “This pandemic has severely strained the market for biofuels, closing plants and dealing another crippling blow to an industry that is already struggling. We urge you to stand with our farmers and rural economies during this challenging time and deny any request for blanket statewide or nationwide waivers from the 2020 RFS blending requirements under the Clean Air Act.”

In the letter, the members of Congress stress that granting the RFS waiver requests would compound the challenges facing rural America and weaken one of the most successful clean air policies in the U.S. “These waivers directly undermine the RFS and only stand to put more pressure on the ethanol and biodiesel industries, which support over 300,000 high-paying American jobs,” they continued.

The representatives also noted that the effects of COVID-19 combined with the damage caused by the EPA’s abuse of small refinery exemptions (SREs) caused more than 150 biofuel plants to idle or reduce production. “This means that over 50 percent of U.S. ethanol production capacity has ceased operations, resulting in economic uncertainty for our rural economies and the loss of a critical market for corn farmers. At an already turbulent time for ethanol and biodiesel producers, we must take action to support—not undermine—the industry and our farmers,” they continued.

The 44 representatives also called the waiver requests “unjustified,” said that they “run contrary to the EPA’s well-established precedents,” and stressed the waiver requests fail to meet necessary legal criteria. The letter stresses that recent oil market volatility is not being caused by the RFS. Rather, that volatility is a result of COVID-19-related factors and high production levels in Russia and Saudi Arabia. In addition, the representatives point out that RFS regulations already account for the drop in fuel demand because blending standards are percentage-based. They also note there is currently an excess supply of renewable identification numbers (RINs) on the market and available to refiners, offering flexibility for RFS compliance.

We stand ready to work with you on ways to deliver on continued investment and support for biofuels,” the members of Congress wrote. “They offer an immediately available and proven path towards decarbonizing the transportation sector, driving economic growth, creating jobs, and improving air quality. We need to make sure that our rural economies are in the best possible position to recover from this crisis and any move to weaken the RFS would only put us further behind.

“Again, we strongly urge you to uphold the integrity of the RFS and decline issuing any blanket statewide or nationwide waivers from the 2020 RFS blending requirements under the Clean Air Act,” they continued.

The letter is signed by Reps. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa; Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Rodney Davis, R-Ill.; Angie Craig, D-Minn.; Ann Wagner, R-Mo.; Darin LaHood, R-Ill.; Don Bacon, R-Neb.; Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.; Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.; Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn.; Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.; Mike Bost, R-Ill.; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.; Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.; Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Jim Baird, R-Ind.; Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; Jason Smith, R-Mo.; Robin Kelly, D-Ill.; Jim Himes, D-Conn.; Sam Graves, R-Mo.; Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.; Ron Estes, R-Kan.; Jahana Hayes, D-Conn.; Steve Watkins, R-Kan.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; James Comer, R-Ky.; Scott Peters, D-Calif.; Sean Casten, D-Ill.; John Larson, D-Conn.; Jacki Walorski, R-Ind.; Joe Courtney, D-Conn.; TJ Cox, D-Calif.; David Cicilline, D-R.I.; Adrian Smith, R-Neb.; Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; Steve King, R-Iowa; Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H.; Ron Kind, D-Wisc.; David Scott, D-Ga.; and Rick Crawford, R-Ark.

The Renewable Fuels Association has spoken out to thank the 44 members of the House of Representatives for urging Trump to deny the RFS waiver requests. “RFA is grateful to this bipartisan group of leaders in the House for standing with consumers, farmers and ethanol producers to uphold the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “While refiners are appealing to governors in a callous effort to evade the RFS under the guise of COVID-19 relief, the law requires—and EPA has previously concluded—that waivers can only be granted when any potential hardship is being caused by the RFS, not any other factor. However, in this case, the governors correctly state the harm is caused by plummeting oil prices attributable to an international oil glut and falling demand caused by COVID-19.  Those factors are also hurting ethanol. In fact, half of the nation’s ethanol production capacity was shut down over the past several months.

“The rural communities that depend on a thriving renewable fuels industry are fortunate to have such dedicated supporters in Congress protecting the RFS from endless attacks,” Cooper continued. “These lawmakers understand that caving into the whims of the oil industry and waiving the RFS would not only be illegal, but it would also have devastating impacts on working families and small businesses already reeling from the effects of this terrible pandemic.”

Growth Energy also thanked the representatives for combating oil-backed efforts to undermine the RFS. “Rural America cannot afford another setback, and we’re grateful for the tireless efforts of House leaders to protect our road to recovery by defending the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “Oil industry efforts to waive the RFS would do nothing to reverse the market challenges facing all fuel makers, but they would eliminate a vital economic lifeline for thousands of rural workers, biofuel producers, and farmers who already face unprecedented hardship. It’s past time for the administration to declare these schemes dead on arrival, so we can all get back to rebuilding America’s agricultural supply chain in the wake of COVID-19.”

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from Finkenauer’s website.