EPA ignores DOE recommendations on RFS hardship waivers

By Erin Voegele | June 26, 2018

Representatives of the biofuels industry are speaking out to criticize the EPA following news that the agency consistently ignored recommendations from the U.S. Department of Energy to reject or limit waivers to oil refiners seeking exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The American Coalition for Ethanol, the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association are among the groups that have issued statements following a June 26 news report issued by Reuters that cites several sources as indicating the EPA ignored DOE’s advice when issuing waivers. Under the RFS statute, the EPA must consult with the DOE as part its process to consider economic hardship waivers for small refiners. 

Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE, criticized EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for lying about his rationale for awarding the waivers. “Administrator Pruitt’s continued mischaracterizations of his rationale for using the hardship waivers as reported by Reuters today is causing even more harm in rural America,” he said. “His less than truthful answers to farmers in South Dakota blaming the DOE for requiring EPA to hand out waivers like candy is the last straw. Disagreeing is one thing—lying to cover up something you did that impacts rural families’ livelihoods is another.

“Administrator Pruitt continues to disregard President Trump’s campaign promise that ‘the EPA should ensure that biofuel blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress under the RFS,’” Jennings continued. “This news only reinforces our decision to challenge certain Small Refinery Exemptions in Court and to petition EPA to account for lost volumes of renewable fuel resulting from the unprecedented number of retroactive small refinery exemptions granted by the agency.

“A strong rural economy depends upon growing the use of renewable fuels,” Jennings said. “The president needs to direct Administrator Pruitt to discard EPA’s refiner win-at-all-costs mentality and carry out another of President Trump’s promises to allow E15 and higher blends market access year-round. More than two months ago, President Trump pledged to allow the use of E15 year-round, yet EPA to-date refuses to make good on that promise.  This is unacceptable.”

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the ABBC, also criticized Pruitt over his recent scapegoating of the DOE. “Administrator Pruitt’s damage-control tour of the Midwest was met by protests because rural communities aren’t buying the spin,” he said. “Struggling farmers can’t understand why the EPA would force them to pay for handouts to a few well-connected refiners with record profits.

“Falsely scapegoating the Department of Energy was a bad strategy, and it’s only going to make things worse with rural Republicans,” Coleman said. There’s just no way to justify the destruction of demand for U.S. crops and homegrown biofuels in this economy.

“The White House needs to send a clear and final signal that refiners should look elsewhere for their next handout—this window is closed,” he continued. “Enforcing the law, as written, is the only way to avoid creating a mess that only damages the administration and the rural economy. Even among oil companies, these waivers turn anyone who doesn’t get a handout into an adversary. It’s amazingly short-sighted.”

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor called on the White House to take action now to restore demand for biofuels that has been lost due to the EPA’s misuse of hardship waivers. “Administrator Pruitt just finished telling crowds of struggling farmers that the massive increase in EPA handouts wasn’t driven by his loyalty to a few wealthy refiners,” she said. “But these companies aren’t small and they aren’t experiencing hardship—unlike farmers facing a five-year plunge in income. In fact, those waivers are at odds with everything we hear from the Department of Agriculture, President Trump, and now the Department of Energy.

“It’s easy to understand why voters in the heartland view EPA as failing President Trump’s promises to rural America,” Skor continued. “Waivers have taken billions out of the pockets of farmers, while EPA continues to demand more handouts in exchange for the freedom to sell E15—even after President Trump called for a fix.

“It’s vital the White House take action now to reverse a drain on farm income that threatens the entire rural economy by immediately restoring the demand that has been lost and providing year-round market access for higher biofuel blends,” she said.

Jon Doggett, executive vice president of the NCGA noted Pruitt’s actions have eroded farmers’ trust for the EPA. “When Administrator Pruitt speaks with the farm community, we expect him to tell the truth,” he said. “He clearly misled farmers about who is and isn’t responsible for draining their income at the EPA. Actions like that make it nearly impossible for farmers to trust anything this EPA has to say.”