Washington – The Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA) has petitioned a federal court to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent increase in exemptions from the nation’s renewable fuel standard (RFS).
The ABFA said the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt has granted an “unprecedentedly large” number of small oil refineries economic hardship waivers so they do not have to blend ethanol into gasoline or buy credits to avoid the blending requirement.
The biofuels trade group’s members include Minnesota-based agribusiness Cargill and energy company Gevo, which operates a biofuels plant in Luverne. The group charges that the growing number of RFS waivers represents a lowering of the standards by which waivers are supposed to be determined.
In its petition, ABFA notes that “a historically unparalleled number of exemptions” to refineries producing less than 75,000 gallons of gasoline per year cannot be explained away as “year-to-year changes in the renewable fuels market, but can only be attributable to a decision by EPA to modify the criteria or lower the threshold” for granting exemptions to the renewable fuel standard.
In an e-mail Wednesday, an EPA spokesperson said the “criteria used to grant waivers has not changed since previous administrations.” The agency said it has granted waivers to 24 refineries so far this year, denied one and has four requests pending. There are 38 refineries in the U.S. that produce fewer than 75,000 gallons of gasoline per year, according to the EPA.
Many corn farmers in Minnesota rely heavily on sales to ethanol plants. They vocally oppose the increase in EPA waivers. Trade groups for those farmers claim the waivers issued so far in 2018 have cut the amount of required ethanol by 1.6 billion gallons. That is more than 10 percent of the current annual 15 billion gallon blend quota.
Oil industry trade groups said the growing number of waivers can be traced to increasing applications. Those requests to be exempted from blend quotas followed a 2017 federal court decision that said the EPA set too high a bar for establishing economic hardship.
Reuters news service has reported that large, profitable oil companies have been receiving waivers for small refineries that they own. The biofuels association petition for a lawsuit follows closely on a Reuters report that a small refinery owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, received an EPA exemption from ethanol blending requirements. The refinery is located in Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as state attorney general.