Representatives urge GAO investigation of SREs

By Erin Voegele | August 26, 2019

A dozen members of Congress, led by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro Aug. 21 urging the U.S. Government Accountability Office to examine the review and approval of small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s viability scores for the 40 SREs reviewed to date by the DOE for the 2018 compliance year.

The letter notes that recent litigation in the D.C. Circuit has revealed that the DOE had given a viability score of zero to at least half of the 48 SRE applications field for compliance years 2016 and 2017, meaning that the DOE had no concerns about the refiner’s financial viability. The members of Congress cite a July 19 letter Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent to Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in which Perry admitted the EPA granted at least one waiver in conflict with his agency’s recommendation. “This raises questions about the review process and what other factors the EPA is considering in approving the waivers,” the members of Congress wrote. “A comprehensive review is needed to ensure appropriate oversight going forward as well as ensuring the transparency of EPA’s process.”

Finkenauer and her collages ask Dodaro to consider seven specific elements the GAO’s investigation, including the viability score of each SRE applications submitted for the 2018 compliance year, whether the DOE has made any changes to how it makes SRE recommendations to EPA, what factors besides the DOE’s viability score are considered by EPA and whether those factors have changed since the previous administration, and the percentage of SREs since 2011 that received a disqualifying score from the DOE but were ultimately granted. The GAO is also asked to determine how many times the DOE has recommended a partial SRE waiver and how many times the EPA has actually granted such a waiver, whether the EPA or DOE consider the economic viability of the parent refiner company when considering an SRE applications from an individual refinery, and whether the DOE takes renewable identification number (RIN) values into account when assessing SRE applications.

Growth Energy has spoken out in support of Finkenauer’s call for a GAO review of SREs. “We applaud Congresswoman Finkenauer and other biofuel champions for standing up against the EPA’s abuse of the exemption process to enrich well-connected refiners at the expense of farm communities and rural workers,” said Emil Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “Already, dozens of biofuel plants have closed or cut production, and hundreds of millions of bushels of grain are falling in value, just as farmers face the worst economic conditions in a generation. The EPA needs to account for these lost gallons immediately and start repairing the damage before more rural communities lose hope for a comeback.”

In addition to Finkenauer, the letter was also signed by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Rodney Davis, R-Ill.; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa; Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.; Mike Bost, R-Ill.; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Don Bacon, R-Neb.; Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.; Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill,; and Darin LaHood, R-Ill.

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