Senator calls for FBI probe of Icahn’s role

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 1, 2017

A Democratic senator this week called for the FBI to investigate Carl Icahn, the mega-investor who urged the Trump administration to change a key provision of federal renewable fuels policy while he was a policy adviser to the White House.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a supporter of ethanol mandates, asked the bureau to look into whether Icahn ran afoul of conflict-of-interest laws by advising the administration to make a change to the renewable fuel standard (RFS) that would benefit a company in which he controls a majority stake.

“It appears Mr. Icahn potentially violated the principal criminal conflict of interest statute … [and] abused his role as a special advisor to the President of the United States on issues relating to regulatory reform by participating personally and substantially … on a government matter that directly affects his own financial interests,” Duckworth told FBI Director Christopher Wray in a letter yesterday.

Duckworth cited an extensive story published recently in The New Yorker examining Icahn’s role in trying to change the policy by shifting responsibility for ethanol mandates away from refiners to fuel blenders.

The New Yorker article described Icahn’s dealings with Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, which culminated in media reports that the RFA had agreed not to work against a change in the so-called point of obligation for the renewable fuel standard, if the administration would agree to lift seasonal restrictions against sales of higher-ethanol fuel blends.

The reported deal, which would have involved an executive order from Trump changing the point of obligation for the RFS, never became reality (Greenwire, March 8).

The New Yorker article suggested that Icahn had either negotiated directly with Dinneen as a representative of the administration or had falsely represented himself as empowered to negotiate the policy change on the administration’s behalf.

Icahn is majority stakeholder in CVR Energy Inc., where he serves as chairman of the board of directors. He has publicly urged changing the point of obligation, calling it “completely, totally absurd” and saying renewable fuel credits could cost CVR $200 million a year.

He’s also brushed back complaints about his dual role, saying in an article in The Hill in March that he vetted his activities with lawyers and didn’t have to register as a lobbyist, for instance — a move that the group Public Citizen said should have been required.

CVR didn’t immediately return a message today seeking a comment from Icahn, who resigned from the administration earlier this month, hours ahead of publication of The New Yorker article. But Icahn downplayed his role in a resignation letter.

“I never had a formal position with your administration nor a policymaking role. And contrary to the insinuations of a handful of your Democratic critics, I never had access to nonpublic information or profited from my position, nor do I believe that my role presented conflicts of interest,” Icahn said in his resignation letter (Greenwire, Aug. 21).

In a press release, Duckworth said Icahn’s activities may violate a conflict-of-interest law that “prohibits an executive branch employee, including a special government employee, from participating personally and substantially or providing advice or recommendations in a government matter that directly affects his own financial interests.”

Debate over the point of obligation continues, as a coalition of refiners and gas stations pressure Congress and the administration to shift responsibility to blenders.

The Small Retailers Coalition, representing convenience stores and small petroleum retailers, sued U.S. EPA in federal court in Texas on Monday to force the agency to examine the economic impact of the point of obligation on its members. That analysis is required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, the group said.

“At a minimum, EPA has to do a detailed analysis of why the point of obligation should not be moved even though it has a severe impact on a significant percentage of the small gas stations in this country,” the group said in an email. “EPA has never looked at the economic impact of the RFS and the point of obligation on small retailers — the analysis is not insufficient, it is non-existent.”