OMAHA (DTN) -- The full Senate will vote on whether to approve Andrew Wheeler to be the next full-time administrator of the EPA, after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday narrowly advanced his nomination 11-10 in a vote along party lines.
The vote comes at a time when questions remain about Wheeler's intentions when it comes to biofuels policy at EPA.
In particular, concern remains that the agency may not be able to complete a rule allowing year-round E15 sales in time for the summer driving season that begins on June 1. In addition, the ethanol industry still is waiting to see how the EPA approaches requests for small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard going forward.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., attempted to delay the committee vote on Tuesday, telling the committee it was early in the nomination process.
"I want us to slow this thing down a little bit," Carper said. "The nomination process is 210 days. This is just 27 days into the nomination. For God's sake, slow it down."
American Coalition for Ethanol CEO Brian Jennings last week sent a letter to senators asking them to press Wheeler for documentation on where the agency stands on issuing an E15 rule, as well as potential plans to reallocate biofuels gallons lost to waivers.
"One week ago, I wrote to all U.S. senators urging them to get evidence that Mr. Wheeler will finalize a legally defensible RVP (Reid vapor pressure) rule to allow E15 use year-round before June 1, and reallocate ethanol blending obligations waived for 2016 and 2017 through the Small Refinery Exemption (SRE) provision of the RFS," Jennings said in a statement on Tuesday. "As the full Senate takes up his nomination, it is critical for the acting administrator to repair the damage done to renewable fuels by his predecessor."
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper, said in a statement his group would like to see EPA complete an E15 rule and Renewable Identification Number, or RIN, reform rule separately.
"We congratulate Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler on his Senate committee confirmation and look forward to continuing to work with him," Cooper said. "However, we remain concerned that EPA has a very tight timeline to finalize the regulatory changes needed to allow year-round sales of E15 before the summer driving season begins.
"We are also concerned with EPA's plans to address year-round E15 and RIN reform measures in the same rulemaking. As we outlined in a recent letter to Mr. Wheeler, unlike the year-round E15 provisions, there is no urgency to move forward quickly with RIN reform provisions. RFA continues to urge EPA to strictly focus on its year-round E15 proposal and address RIN reform measures in a separate action."
Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said in a statement the industry needs to see more evidence of Wheeler's intentions.
"While today's vote gets Wheeler one step closer to becoming the official EPA administrator, we need to see immediate action on the E15 rule and more clarity on potential changes to the RFS exemption process before we could encourage support for his final Senate vote," Shaw said.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., was one of the lawmakers who voted for Wheeler's nomination, reiterating in a statement that Wheeler's work at the agency has been helpful to rural America.
"The policies pursued by President Trump and implemented by Acting Administrator Wheeler have had a positive impact on North Dakota and the country," Cramer said.
"Mr. Wheeler's excellent work on RFS, WOTUS, the Clean Power Plan, and year-round E15 show he is ready to take on this position in a permanent capacity. The arguments against Mr. Wheeler do not hold up. His energy, environment and EPA experiences are an asset, not a liability."
During his confirmation hearing before the EPW committee in January, Wheeler indicated his agency was on track to complete the E15 rule prior to June 1.
Wheeler also was quizzed on how the EPA will be approaching small-refinery waiver requests. In 2016 and 2017, the agency granted a total of 48 waivers. As a result, EPA has estimated that 2.25 billion gallons of biofuels were not blended during that time.
Wheeler said his agency will continue to look at each individual waiver request instead of granting what Ernst called "blanket waivers" granted by the agency under Scott Pruitt's leadership.
According to media reports, larger refining companies making billions of dollars in profits received small-refinery waivers.
Wheeler said the waivers granted are based on individual refiners and not a larger company that may own those facilities.
He said the agency hopes to have three proposals released in February, including the E15 rule, a possible reset of the RFS, as well as a proposal to make alterations to the market for RINs. Once 2022 rolls around, the RFS can be implemented by EPA and USDA.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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