Houston Chronicle

EPA now will back ethanol industry in dispute

- By David Pitt

DES MOINES, Iowa — The federal government announced Monday that it will support the ethanol industry in a lawsuit over biofuel waivers granted to oil refineries under President Donald Trump’s administra­tion.

The Environmen­tal Protection Agency said it is reversing course and will support a January 2020 decision by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit filed by the Renewable Fuels Associatio­n and farm groups. The lawsuit is headed to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

Federal law requires refiners to blend billions of gallons of biofuels in the nation’s gasoline supply or buy credits from refineries that do the blending. Refineries can seek waivers if they can show that meeting the ethanol quotas would create a financial hardship for their companies.

The appeals court concluded that the EPA improperly granted exemptions to refineries that didn’t qualify. The court said refineries should be granted waivers only as extensions, but most refineries seeking exemptions had not continuous­ly received them year after year. The decision effectivel­y limited the EPA’s ability to grant most exemptions.

Trump, who polls show had overwhelmi­ng support among Midwestern farmers, had promised to back policies that helped agricultur­e, but his EPA approved sharp increases in the waivers.

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used to make ethanol. The EPA issued 85 retroactiv­e small refinery exemptions for the 20162018 compliance years, undercutti­ng the renewable fuel volumes by 4 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Associatio­n.

Roughly a month after President Joe Biden took office, his EPA reversed the federal government’s stand, saying the EPA agrees with the appeals court that the exemption was intended to operate as a temporary measure.

Biofuels and farm advocates applauded the decision. “This announceme­nt marks a giant step forward by the new administra­tion to restore the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard and honor the statutory intent of the program,” Renewable Fuels Associatio­n President Geoff Cooper said.

The American Fuel & Petrochemi­cal Manufactur­ers of America and the American Petroleum Institute — two petroleum industry groups — did not immediatel­y respond to messages.

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