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Sens. Grassley, Ernst Ask DOE Nominee for Transparency on Biofuels Waivers

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Iowa republican Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the nomination of Mark Menezes as deputy secretary of energy, citing concerns about biofuels exemptions. (DTN file photo)

Iowa Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, both republicans, voted against the nomination of Mark Menezes as deputy secretary of energy, stating in a letter to Menezes on Tuesday that they need to see more transparency on the U.S. Department of Energy's evaluation of small-refinery exemptions.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Grassley said the DOE sent to EPA 58 so-called gap-year requests for exemptions. EPA has 90 days to decide whether to grant them.

The requests have been made by refiners for retroactive exemptions for years 2011 to 2018. Refiners made the requests to comply with a court ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. The court ruled the EPA mishandled waivers granted to three companies.

"As you begin your new job as deputy secretary at the department of energy, we wanted to continue the dialogue that we had started with our phone call on June 22," the letter said.

"We also want to thank you for responding to our inquiry with your letter on July 2 regarding how the DOE scores petitions for small-refiner exemptions in its statutory role as advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency."

The senators said the petitions "threaten to undercut the RFS and fail to meet the standard" set by the 10th Circuit decision.

"The EPA's decision to send them to DOE for a technical analysis erodes the public's trust in the rule of law and the ability for the EPA and DOE to faithfully implement the Renewable Fuel Standard," they said.

"You stated in your July 2 response that you were reviewing petitions already reviewed by DOE. We are concerned DOE wasted valuable time and resources to score these petitions again. We now understand that all petitions have been sent back to EPA and that this was a demand from oil-state senators for your nomination to be considered. We have concerns this process is not transparent and does not promote accountability in government.

"Given the remaining questions about how and why these petitions were scored, we could not support your nomination when it came before the Senate."

In previous years, they said, confidential business information had been used as a rationale to "avoid public disclosure" of decisions made by DOE and EPA.

"However, this rationale cannot be used to shield Congress from conducting oversight responsibilities and we ask for a more transparent and collaborative process going forward," the senators said.

"While you state that specific company names, number of petitions, and the year of the petition are considered CBI, we would ask that you provide a legal opinion on how providing such basic information could cause damage outweighing the public's right to know about decisions its government is making. Regardless, we ask that you work to provide a confidential setting for our staff to review past year petition analysis along with current year analysis to allow us to conduct our congressional oversight duties."

The senators ask Menezes to provide the public with information on DOE's score of each petition and when the score recommendation was transmitted back to EPA.

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