Duckworth accuses EPA of deception, calls for probe into ethanol waivers

Source: By John Siciliano, Washington Examiner • Posted: Monday, May 27, 2019

Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth asked the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general Thursday to investigate whether the agency broke the law in granting dozens of waivers to the oil industry to not blend corn ethanol into the gasoline supply.

Duckworth said new documents show that EPA has deceived members of Congress about its reasons for granting 35 small refinery exemptions in the last two years, compared to the seven granted under the Obama administration.

“Recent document disclosures reveal that the EPA misled Members of Congress, industry and the public,” the senator said in a letter to EPA acting Inspector General Charles Sheehan. “This deception by EPA political appointees may indicate improper motives and conflicts of interest, and it warrants a thorough review.”

Duckworth is the first lawmaker to call on the EPA inspector’s office to launch such a probe after months of prodding by the likes of Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst demanding that agency stop granting the exemptions to oil companies. They argue that most of the refineries were attached to large oil companies such as Exxon, which do not meet the requirements for an exemption under the law.

Duckworth’s state is the third-largest ethanol producer in the country behind Iowa and Nebraska. The ethanol industry argues that the agency’s refinery exemptions have caused producers of the corn-based fuel to lose market share.

The refinery industry says the ethanol industry’s argument is baseless, arguing that they need the waivers to reduce the costs imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard. The standard requires refiners to blend an increasing amount of ethanol and other renewable fuels into the fuel supply each year.

But with increased pressure on farmers from President Trump’s trade policies with China, lawmakers say the exemption program is exacerbating the economic harm to farmers. Farmers are suffering from China’s retaliatory tariffs on soybeans and a range of other U.S. agricultural commodities.

Nevertheless, the EPA is poised to roll back regulations in a week to allow more ethanol to be sold during the summer months by lifting restrictions on 15% ethanol fuel blends. The pro-ethanol camp says the plan, endorsed personally by Trump, will be a boon to corn farmers. But with the trade war and the refinery exemptions in place, they say, those gains could be lost.

Meanwhile, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., on Thursday introduced legislation to prevent the agency from abusing the refinery exemption program. The ethanol lobby in Washington applauded the bipartisan bill as a means of ensuring transparency is reintroduced back into the refinery waiver program.