Trump administration argues against refiners’ biofuel petition

Source: By Stephanie Kelly, Reuters • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration has argued against a petition from oil refiners asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court decision that undermined the legitimacy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s biofuel waiver program.

Department of Justice officials said the court should not review the case as it does not conflict with any other Supreme Court or appeals court decision, according to the brief submitted on Dec. 8. The officials argued that the court could review the decision after a similar case is completed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Under U.S. law, refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel, or buy credits from those that do. Small refiners can apply for exemptions to the requirements if they prove the obligations would cause them financial harm.

At issue is a January decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled that waivers granted to small refineries after 2010 should only be approved as extensions. Because most recipients of waivers in recent years have not continuously received them year after year, the decision threatened to upend the waiver program.

Oil refiners petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision in September.

A coalition of U.S. biofuel groups has since announced, on Tuesday, it had filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Trump administration’s decision in 2019 to grant 31 oil refineries exemptions from U.S. biofuel blending obligations.

“Those pending D.C. Circuit proceedings provide an additional reason to deny the petition in this case. If the D.C. Circuit parts ways with the Tenth Circuit on the question presented, this Court can consider whether that conflict warrants further review,” the DOJ brief said.

The biofuel industry has called for the EPA to apply the Tenth Circuit Court ruling broadly, but the agency has yet to do so and is still contemplating pending petitions for the 2019 and 2020 compliance years.

“The Tenth Circuit got it right the first time, and now refiners need to accept the reality that they must comply with the law,” said Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. “It’s time to move on.”

Meanwhile, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers trade group said the Supreme Court has enough information to review the case now and should not delay.

“Waiting another year to resolve the matter would be reckless, leaving many facilities and refining jobs hanging in the balance,” said AFPM President Chet Thompson.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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