Ethanol groups sue Trump admin over refinery waivers

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ethanol trade groups sued EPA and the Department of Energy to find out which refineries have been granted waivers from biofuel blending requirements and how the agency decided to grant them.

Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying EPA and DOE failed to comply with requests under the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the owners of the refineries and other information.

“EPA should come clean and provide the public with what it deserves — a full accounting of the stark increase in the number of small refinery exemptions it has granted in recent years,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor in a news release.

“We deserve to know why EPA has supercharged its approvals of these exemptions without reallocating lost gallons and making sure that RFS volumes are met each year,” Skor said, referring to the federal renewable fuel standard.

In their complaint, the groups cited the sharp increase in the number of waivers EPA granted in the past year, which the agency considers in consultation with DOE.

“Without any information from EPA and DOE, Plaintiffs have struggled to understand the basis for the sudden increase in the number of such small refinery extensions granted by the Agency,” they said. “This issue is critical to Plaintiffs because, by reducing the amount of renewable fuel that the exempt refineries have to blend into gasoline and diesel fuel, EPA’s small refinery extensions have slashed the demand for the renewable fuel that Plaintiffs’ member companies produce.”

At issue are waivers given to small refineries that claim economic hardship if they had to comply with the biofuel requirement. In some cases, refineries that have been identified are owned by large, profitable companies such as Andeavor.

The refining industry has cited the high cost of renewable fuel credits they buy to comply with the RFS, if they don’t blend ethanol into gasoline.

Frank Maisano, a principal at Bracewell LLP, which represents petroleum companies, called the lawsuit a gimmick to distract from federal court rulings that have favored small refiners on RFS issues, including the granting of hardship waivers.

“They want confidential business information, deliberative materials or both, and then wonder why the government doesn’t provide it,” Maisano said.

EPA has declined to identify refineries or say how much biofuel might have been displaced as a result of the decision, calling that confidential to the businesses. Some publicly traded companies have revealed the waivers in government filings, however, and some have been identified in news reports.

The groups asked the court to order the records immediately released and for them to be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees.