ST. PAUL — Regional elected officials, agricultural groups and biofuel supporters on Tuesday, Jan. 28, applauded a U.S. court of appeals decision vacating a trio of small refinery waivers issued to oil and gas refineries.
The reactions come after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals late last week struck down three small refinery exemptions issued to oil and gas refineries in Wyoming, Utah and Oklahoma, saying they were improperly issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA "exceeded its statutory authority" in greenlighting extended exemptions for the oil and gas refineries, Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote in the court's opinion. Beginning in 2005, the agency has been required to steadily boost the amount of renewable fuels mixed with petroleum in the U.S.
And refineries that produced less than 75,000 each day were given six years to adapt to the new rule. After 2011, small refineries were expected to comply with the new standard unless they received a waiver because they could prove the adjustment would cause “disproportionate economic hardship.”
Beginning in 2016, the EPA began issuing more exemptions for oil and gas refineries. And concerned about the decision making behind the scenes as well as the impact the exceptions were having on biofuel producers, the Renewable Fuels Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union and the American Coalition for Ethanol challenged the EPA in 2018.
The court's decision to vacate the three exemptions is a positive step, Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said. And it comes at a time when farmers and those working in the biofuels industry are facing significant challenges.
"The rate at which small refinery exemptions have been granted by the Trump administration EPA has been harmful to family farmers, as they’ve lost billions of gallons of demand for ethanol," Wertish said in a news release. "Homegrown biofuel markets not only support farmers’ income but provide savings to consumers at the pump and burn cleaner than petroleum gasoline."
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers last year called on the Trump administration to stop issuing the exemptions. And in October, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wrote to President Donald Trump earlier raising concerns about the growing number of waivers under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Born out of those concerns about federal policy was Minnesota's Biofuels Council, a group tasked with assessing growth opportunities in the industry and advising the administration on potential policy changes. The council met for the first time a day prior.
"I think we're strategizing and looking at things like E-15 as a broader more stable market rather than relying on the whims of the EPA in granting waivers," Walz told reporters on Tuesday.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., in a news release Tuesday said she supported the court's decision and hoped it would influence decisionmaking at the federal agency.
“I hope that this court decision will lead to the review of other waivers that may have been improperly granted in the same way," Smith said. "More broadly, I still hope that going forward the EPA will stop abusing the waiver system."