OMAHA (DTN) -- Republican senators from oil-producing states are pressing President Donald Trump to tell Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to effectively stay in his lane and out of EPA's decision-making on small-refinery exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Thirteen senators co-signed a letter to the president on Friday following comments from Perdue that the USDA secretary was getting involved in influencing how EPA approves small-refinery petitions for hardship waivers.
Senators writing the letter included Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as well as other senators representing Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
"We strongly oppose giving the Secretary (Perdue) any role in the decision-making process over the petitions," the senators wrote.
USDA's press office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the senator's letter.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA administrator decides, after consulting with the Energy secretary, which refiners receive a hardship waiver. The senators noted the law does not give the USDA secretary any authority or role in the petitions.
Based on that, the senators asked Trump to tell Perdue to stay out of the decisions on small-refinery hardships. The senators then noted the courts have twice rebuked EPA for denying refinery hardships. The senators also credited the Trump administration for allowing more exemptions.
"We would view any decisions to further delay, reduce, or deny hardship relief to small refineries, or reallocate the obligations of small refineries to other refineries, as the result of the Secretary of Agriculture's impermissible interference," the senators wrote the president. "We are confident that others, including the federal courts, would do the same."
The small-refinery exemptions have reduced ethanol use by about 2.6 billion gallons, and 38 refiners are waiting for EPA to decide on new exemptions.
A dozen senators representing ethanol-producing states wrote EPA earlier this month asking the agency to stop granting the exemptions and to reallocate the fuel blending volumes that have been waived off by the exemptions.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., also put holds on three USDA nominees last week until USDA drops its involvement in small-refinery exemptions. The nominations include Scott Hutchins as undersecretary for research, education, and economics; Mindy Brashears as undersecretary for food safety; and Naomi Earp as assistant secretary for civil rights.
Last week, Perdue said President Trump picked up from farmers and others at an event in Iowa earlier in June that farmers and others had concerns about EPA's small-refinery exemptions.
Perdue said the president spoke to him and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Perdue said at a June 23 event in Iowa, the president was surprised by some of the companies that qualified for the EPA waivers.
"The president asked him (Wheeler) specifically how in the world does Exxon Mobil qualify as a small refiner? I said, that's the question farmers in Iowa have been asking, right?" Perdue said.
Perdue also added that it was hair-splitting for "people in Washington" to use "small refinery," versus "small refiner" in defining the refinery exemption. "I'm here to tell you I don't characterize Exxon Mobil as a small refinery or refiner when they made billions of dollars last year," Perdue said. "We're going to see what we can do about that."
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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