Ethanol Blog

GAO Will Investigate Small-Refinery Exemptions Program

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The U.S. Government Accountability Office is set to investigate the EPA's small-refinery exemptions program. (Photo courtesy of CountryMark)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office will investigate the EPA's small-refinery exemptions program on 40 waivers reviewed by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2018 -- in response to a request made by members of Congress back in August.

In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives members on Friday, the GAO announced it would start an investigation.

President Donald Trump's administration has granted 85 waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard since 2016, totaling more than 4 billion gallons of biofuels not blended with gasoline -- a dramatic increase in the number of exemptions granted compared to previous years.

The request was made by Reps. Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne, Don Bacon, Mike Bost, Cheri Bustos, Rodney Davis, Adam Kinzinger, Darin LaHood, Dave Loebsack, Dusty Johnson, Roger Marshall and Collin Peterson.

Back in August the lawmakers asked the GAO to investigate a number of issues such as information on viability scores of exemption applicants, whether the U.S. Department of Energy changed how it makes recommendations to the EPA, whether the DOE takes renewable identification number values into account when assessing petitions, whether federal agencies consider the economic viability of parent refiner companies when considering exemptions and how often DOE recommends a partial waiver.

In the August letter, the lawmakers raised questions about whether the agencies were giving exemptions to refiners that didn't qualify.

"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 applications for small-refinery exemptions to EPA for compliance years 2016 and 2017, meaning that the DOE had no concerns about the refiner's financial viability," they wrote.

"In a letter dated July 19, 2019, to Sen. (Charles) Grassley DOE Secretary (Rick) Perry admitted that 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. A comprehensive review is needed to ensure appropriate oversight going forward as well as ensuring the transparency of the EPA's process."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow me on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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