Democrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don’t add ethanol

Source: By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill • Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lawmakers are looking for a solution to fix the nation’s ethanol program after proposals from the Trump administration have repeatedly irked both corn farmers and gasoline producers.

A bill from Democrats heard Tuesday goes straight to the source of the controversy as far as farmers are concerned — a transparency measure to illuminate why oil companies are receiving waivers that exempt them from blending ethanol into their fuels.

President Trump had promised Iowa farmers he would review the waiver program but sparked an outcry in August after he directedthe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hand them out once again.

Those waivers ignited a movement that has pitted farmers against the oil industry and left the administration scrambling to please both sides — likely an impossible task.

“We’re not going to find the perfect solution to give everyone 100 percent of what they want,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democrats’ idea is a bill that would put an end to what Rep. Jerry McNerney called the “secretive and capricious nature” of the waivers that largely keep recipients a secret due to business confidentiality concerns.

The waiver program is meant to benefit small refineries who argue that blending in ethanol would cause a hardship. But Democrats have targeted the program since it was revealed that some of those refineries were owned by major oil companies.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said the waivers show “Trump and his cronies get theirs and ordinary Americans get hurt.”

Indeed, ethanol producers have argued they have had to close plants and lay off workers due to a decline in ethanol demand. Their backlash resulted in a new proposal from the EPA designed to allays their concerns and promise to force other oil refineries to blend in the gallons small refineries were exempted from adding.

But when more details about the plans were released, farm groups said there had been a bait and switch. The EPA would require larger refineries to add more ethanol based on government projections rather than the actual amount of gallons exempted.

Refiners were likewise opposed to the plan.

“While the granting of widespread small refinery exemptions should not be occurring in the first place, there is simply no logic in forcing complying refineries to bear the burden of decisions outside of their control,” Frank Macchiarola, vice president of downstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said at the time.

On Tuesday, Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said the waiver process should remain confidential, adding, “We’re not anti-ethanol, we’re anti-mandate.”