Grassley blasts EPA’s ‘non-answer’ over waivers

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 13, 2018

EPA may have a new boss, but it’s sticking to its refusal to say which refineries don’t have to meet ethanol blending requirements.

In a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the agency declined to identify the recipients of “hardship” waivers to the renewable fuel standard, drawing a rebuke from the senator, who’d sought the information.

The agency’s letter indicates that EPA isn’t changing its approach under acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

EPA considers names of companies that petition for, or receive, the waivers to be confidential business information, Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum told Grassley.

The senator, responding in a statement, said, “The idea that disclosing to Congress the names of waiver recipients somehow reveals confidential business information doesn’t make any sense and isn’t acceptable.”

He called the response a “non-answer” and added: “Providing Congress with the names of recipients wouldn’t reveal any details about their operations or finances. It’s a necessary first step to making sure the law is being followed.”

Grassley said he’ll take up the issue with Wheeler.

Grassley and a handful of other senators wrote to then-Administrator Scott Pruitt in April, asking for detailed information on the waivers (Greenwire, April 17).

Grassley, the Senate’s leading advocate for ethanol, has urged EPA to stop granting waivers pending a review of the policy for granting them. Pruitt had defended the increasing number of waivers — which helped reduce biofuel levels below congressionally set goals — as legally required when small refineries demonstrate economic hardship.

Since 2016, EPA has granted the vast majority of waivers requested. Some recipients, including Andeavor, have been identified in news reports. In some cases, publicly traded companies have revealed the information in public financial filings.

For 2016, EPA granted 19 of 20 petitions, the agency told Grassley, totaling 790 million renewable fuel credits, or renewable identification numbers. One RIN is equivalent to a gallon of biofuel, and refiners buy them as an alternative to blending ethanol into gasoline to comply with the RFS.

For 2017, the agency said, it received 33 petitions and granted 29 of them, totaling 1.46 billion RINs. The remaining four petitions are pending, Wehrum said in the letter.

Grassley said the lopsided approval of waiver petitions calls EPA’s process into question.

“EPA’s acknowledgment that only one waiver applicant has been denied in the past couple years raises questions about the legitimacy of the process. The agency seems to be using a rubber stamp to help Big Oil skirt the law,” he said.

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