Nation & World

Trump rejects 54 biofuel waiver requests from small oil refineries

Farmers angered over rising number of exemptions

A plant manager walks inside the wet distillers bunker at the Siouxland Energy Cooperative near Sioux Center in northwes
A plant manager walks inside the wet distillers bunker at the Siouxland Energy Cooperative near Sioux Center in northwest Iowa. The plant was among several in the Midwest that temporarily closed or limited production after the Trump administration in 2019 granted dozens of waivers to oil refiners so they wouldn’t have to blend in biofuels made with corn and soybeans. (Kathryn Gamble/ Washington Post.

The Trump administration on Monday rejected dozens of requests from small oil refineries that sought waivers retroactively to keep them exempt from the nation’s renewable fuels law.

President Donald Trump has expressed support for the Renewable Fuel Standard and has overseen regulatory reforms expanding the sales of corn-based ethanol. But at the same time, his administration has quadrupled the number of waivers given to oil refiners so they don’t have to comply with the biofuel law, according to an analysis from Reuters.

The waivers have taken a toll on the Midwest farm economy as ethanol plants, including some in Iowa, went idle as demand waned. The issue has become a political liability as both Trump and GOP U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst seek continued support from farmers in the November elections.

When Trump appeared Aug. 18 at The Eastern Iowa Airport to talk with officials about federal aid in the wake of the derecho, Ernst devoted some of her face-to-face time with the president to urge him to reject these waivers.

“I’ve been calling for these ‘gap year’ waivers to be thrown out since they were announced. Now, the administration has listened to our calls for action,” Ernst said Monday in a statement, “Today’s announcements will help provide more certainty to our biofuel producers, who have for too long been yanked around by the (Environmental Protection Agency), and help increase access to E15, which drives up demand for corn and ethanol. The fight for Iowa’s renewable fuel industry, and our farmers, is not over. I’ll never stop being a relentless advocate for Iowa agriculture — holding EPA to their commitments and making sure the RFS is the law of the land.”

Her Democratic opponent, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, pointed out that Ernst had voted in favor of confirming EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler despite doubts at the time about his commitment to the renewable fuel law.

“Fifty days before Election Day, this announcement does nothing to erase the massive economic damage in Iowa caused by Senator Ernst’s vote for a fossil fuel lobbyist to run the EPA, which has already issued 85 RFS waivers that benefit Ernst’s Big Oil donors,” Greenfield said in a statement. “Theresa has spent nearly three months calling for EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s resignation over his ongoing attempts to undermine the RFS, and holding Senator Ernst accountable for her disastrous vote to confirm this fossil fuel lobbyist whose reckless anti-ethanol agenda has inflicted so much pain on Iowa farmers.”

Under the nation’s renewable fuel law that dates to 2005, oil refiners are required to either blend biofuels into their products or buy credits from refiners that do. But small refiners could seek waivers if they could prove the law caused them undue financial harm.

In January, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Trump administration in a case involving three refiners, saying it had wrongly granted them waivers.

The court said that since the U.S. Clean Air Act was updated in 2010, the EPA does not have authority to grant exemptions to refiners that had not had them all along previously — in other words, refiners could only get extensions to previous waivers.

Most refiners have not had waivers continuously. So after the court ruling, the EPA received dozens of applications from refiners to retroactively fill in those gaps and come into compliance with the order so they could keep being exempt from the fuel law.

The EPA said it received 68 requests involving 17 refiners. Of those, 54 have been reviewed — those were the “gap” waivers the Trump administration rejected.

Those 54 requests had not sought hardship waivers in the past years they now were seeking.

“These small refineries did not demonstrate then or now that they experienced disproportionate economic hardship from compliance with the RFS program and do not warrant an exemption for those RFS compliance years,” Wheeler wrote in his rejection.,

The EPA did not indicate the fate of the other waiver request that have not yet been reviewed.

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