Advocates file suit over EPA refinery exemptions

Source: By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Six groups, including Growth Energy, the National Biodiesel Board and the National Corn Growers Association, petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review EPA’s decision, saying an already secretive process was even less transparent in the most recent round of waivers issued retroactively for the 2018 compliance year.

In their petition, the groups said that EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, Anne Idsal, signed the exemptions decision Aug. 9 but that the decision wasn’t published in the Federal Register. It “remained a secret” until the agency disclosed it in a Dec. 19 filing in a lawsuit related to the renewable fuel standard.

The groups said EPA’s decision document was just two pages long, shorter than in previous years’ exemptions, and offered little detail about the agency’s reasoning. Exemptions are granted to small refineries that demonstrate an economic hardship if they’re held to the fuel blending requirement.

“The brief document does not reveal any details and contains only the most bare-bones reasoning for EPA’s decision,” the groups said. “Further, the decision did not transparently address whether any of the small refineries were eligible to receive extensions of their exemptions and did not include an analysis of ‘disproportionate economic hardship.'”

The court filing comes as a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee prepares for a hearing Tuesday on small refinery exemptions under the RFS.

That hearing is the first to look into the issue since the Trump administration sharply increased the number of exemptions it grants.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) cheered the scheduling of the hearing, saying in a statement, “Our farmers and rural communities rely on the RFS for their economic viability, and EPA’s actions have done nothing but provide uncertainty and the potential for economic ruin.”

Petroleum refining groups, which are critical of the biofuel blending mandate, counter that the Clean Air Act calls for the exemptions and that EPA must legally grant them when refineries demonstrate economic hardship.

EPA granted the 31 exemptions out of a total of 36 petitions from refineries. The agency decides based in part on recommendations from the Department of Energy; in her decision, Idsal said she was granting full exemption in cases where DOE recommended 50% exemptions.

The denial of exemptions has also led to legal challenges, including from Sinclair Wyoming Refining Co. That company complained about a lack of information from EPA detailing the agency’s reasoning.