On the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted three more small refinery exemption (SRE) requests that were pending under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Last week, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) sent a letter to the EPA Inspector General encouraging he ensure that all communications from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and any correspondence of President Trump’s political appointees about the pending SRE petitions be preserved, in part, to ensure that dispensation of the waivers comply with federal laws regarding political appointees’ roles in federal acts affecting a personal financial interest.
“For EPA to hastily approve these waivers on the way out the door is the final painful reminder of their refinery-win-at-all-cost mentality when it comes to the RFS,” said Brian Jennings, ACE CEO. “This reinforces why we felt compelled to write the Inspector General requesting assurance these last-minute actions comply with federal law. Trump’s EPA has operated in the dark when it comes to how it handles the SRE program and these last-minute pardons for refineries by Administrator Wheeler and his staff calls for an investigation.”
ACE’s letter points out that EPA’s use of SREs to undermine the integrity of the RFS for the economic benefit of oil refiners has been subject to ongoing litigation, most notably the Tenth Circuit Court case. The letter makes specific reference to a Nov. 2, 2020 response Administrator Wheeler provided to a question about when EPA would act on pending SRE petitions where he stated that, “I think it would be inappropriate for me to either grant or deny them [SREs] until that litigation [Tenth Circuit] has completely run its course.”
The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the refiners’ appeal of the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, with arguments scheduled for this spring and a decision likely by summer. ACE’s letter goes on to say, “Given Wheeler’s prior explanation of waiting until the Supreme Court has decided, it is perplexing why he appears to be rapidly reversing course.”
The letter encourages the Inspector General to preserve all communications from Administrator Wheeler and other President Trump political appointees about the SRE waiver petitions. “This should include communications among Trump appointees and EPA career staff with trade groups and law firms who represent oil refineries with waiver petitions pending, as well as with officials or lobbyists of these companies directly,” the letter reads, concluding that “this information, in part, is needed