Ernst to EPA: End misuse of small refinery biofuel waivers

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) recently warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against worsening the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the biofuels industry and the rural communities that it supports by granting certain biofuel blending waivers.

“We write with frustration and significant concern about recent reports that the EPA is considering granting over 50 petitions for Small Refinery Exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for past compliance years,” wrote Sen. Ernst and several colleagues in a June 25 letter sent to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Sen. Ernst and 15 other lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), urged Wheeler “to reject these petitions outright,” which violate both congressional intent, as well as the EPA’s own policy on the issue, according to their letter.

Additionally, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Jan. 24 made a ruling in Renewable Fuels Association v. EPA that struck down three SREs granted by the EPA.

“In ruling that EPA exceeded its statutory authority, the court determined that the waivers for those refineries had lapsed and that there was no waiver available to extend,” Sen. Ernst and her colleagues wrote, calling on Wheeler to apply the Tenth Circuit Court decision nationally.

The senators also noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the misuse of small refinery waivers under the RFS had led many biofuel plants to shut down partially or altogether.

“The further loss of biofuel demand and sales during COVID-19 has resulted in further harm to the industry, with over 100 biofuel processing plants now idled or closed,” they wrote. “This has resulted in reductions to the rural workforce, decreases in commodity purchases and prices, and shortages of co-products critical to the agricultural supply chain.”

The EPA’s approval of SREs for past compliance years right now would worsen this situation, wrote Sen. Ernst and her colleagues.

Sen. Ernst’s ongoing efforts to support the biofuels industry received acknowledgment from several groups, including the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and the Iowa Soybean Association, among others.