Letter urges EPA to comply with GOA investigation of SRE process

By Erin Voegele | September 15, 2020

Seven federal lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Sept. 15 expressing disappointment with the agency’s failure to cooperate with the Government Accountability Office’s investigation into the small refinery exemption (SRE) wavier process.

The investigation has been ongoing for several months. A dozen members of Congress, led by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, in August 2019 asked U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to open a GAO investigation to examine and review the EPA’s review and approval of SREs under the Renewable Fuel Standard, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s viability scores for the 40 SREs that had been reviewed to date for the 2018 compliance year. The lawmakers’ request came following reports that the EPA had disregarded the DOE’s SRE recommendations in at least one case.

The GAO announced in January 2020 it would review matters relating to the approval of SREs. The EPA, however, has been blocking those efforts.

In the Sept. 15 letter, Finkenauer and her fellow lawmakers note the GAO recently alerted their offices that the EPA has not been forthcoming with investigators. “We understand that the GAO has requested the administrative records for all exemption petitions, including the documents that EPA receives from small refineries petitioning for these exemptions, documentation of Department of Energy (DOE) and EPA analysis and consideration of this information, and documentation supporting EPA’s final decisions on such petitions since the start of the program in 2011,” they wrote. “The GAO has also requested company-level compliance credit trade data to provide visibility into compliance costs as well as documentation from DOE directly.

“For several months now, the GAO has repeatedly sought this information from the EPA, first on May 28, 2020 and again on July 8, 2020 and July 16, 2020,” they continued. “Most recently, in a letter sent on  August 3, 2020, the GAO’s General Counsel asked that the EPA provide such documentation by August 17, 2020, a deadline which your agency has ignored.

“Our understanding is that the EPA has failed to turn over these records and documentation on account of the request being overly burdensome because the information includes what the EPA considers to be Confidential Business Information (CBI),” the lawmakers wrote. “As such, the EPA insists it must first go through a lengthy clearance process involving notification of and consultation with each refiner prior to release of the information to GAO. Apparently, this process can take months and depending on the outcome of their consultation with refiners, may ultimately lead to the EPA not providing access to certain documents whatsoever.”

The letter stresses that the EPA is required by statute to provide the GAO with access to this information without delay.

“It is this disregard for well-established federal authorities surrounding disclosure and transparency that have led to the involvement of the GAO General Counsel and now members of Congress in ensuring your compliance with this investigation,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Ignoring the GAO’s statutory authority to access the records without delay jeopardizes the completion of this investigation and belies a concerted effort to evade oversight and accountability,” they concluded. “As such, we instruct you to provide all data, documents, correspondence, and other information requested to the GAO by September 30, 2020 and confirm with the signatories of this letter once you have fully complied with their request.”

The letter is signed by Finkenauer; Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.; Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa; and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from Finkenauer’s website.