GAO to investigate EPA’s small refinery exemption program

By Erin Voegele | January 13, 2020

The Government Accountability Office issued a letter to a dozen members of Congress on Jan. 10 announcing it will review matters relating to the approval of small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s viability scores for the 40 small refinery waivers reviewed by the DOE for compliance year 2018.

The GAO’s letter was issued in response to a request submitted by the same twelve members of Congress last year. The group, led by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, sent a letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Aug. 21 urging the GOA to examine the review and approval of SREs, including the DOE’s viability of scores for the 40 compliance year 2018 SRE applications that had been reviewed as of that date. In the letter, the members of Congress noted that recent litigation had revealed that the DOE had given a viability score of zero to at least half of the 48 SRE applications filed for compliance years 2016 and 2017, meaning the DOE had no concerns about the refiner’s financial viability.

In its Jan. 10 letter, the GAO said it accepts the request as work that is within the scope of its authority. According to the GAO, the request has been assigned to Mark E. Gaffigan, managing director of Natural Resources and Environment. The GAO also indicated staff are available to begin the work shortly.

According to the letter, Gaffigan or a member of his team will contact the staff of requesters to discuss the request, their needs, and the engagement objectives, scope and methodology in accordance with GAO protocols. The GOA also said it will, as applicable, be in contact with the cognizant Inspector General’s office to ensure that it is not duplicating efforts.

“Granting more than 80 small refinery exemption waivers isn’t just something this administration can sweep under the rug,” Finkenauer said in a statement announcing the GAO investigation. “Part of my job is making sure that Iowans voices are heard, and we will continue to fight against these repeated attacks on the Renewable Fuel Standard. I am grateful my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, joined together to put pressure on the Administration and find out why decisions are being made that protect Big Oil’s profits while devastating Iowa’s farmers and biofuel producers.”

Other members of Congress involved in the GAO investigation request include 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 GAO’s letter can be downloaded from Finkenauer’s website.