RFS Fight Launches in Appeals Court

Interest Groups Argue EPA Illegally Finalized RFS Volumes Through 2025

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is considering legal arguments made in an ongoing Renewable Fuel Standard case. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Though the EPA finalized Renewable Fuel Standard volumes for 2023 to 2025 in June 2023, the future of the rule could change depending on the outcome of a legal battle playing out in a federal appeals court.

Three opposing groups of interests -- biodiesel groups, environmental groups and oil refineries -- are each making completely different arguments in a consolidated lawsuit about how EPA got the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) rule wrong.

Several plaintiffs that have challenged the so-called RFS "set rule" made their cases last week in legal briefs filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Under the set rule, EPA last year for the first time set mandated biofuel blend volumes for years beyond 2022, which was the last year that certain biofuels volumes were mandated by the law.

ENVIROMENTAL GROUPS COMPLAIN

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the appeals court to vacate RFS volumes for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel, alleging the agency's action violated the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

"Though Congress intended biofuel production to address the threat of climate change and environmental harm from fossil fuels, years of implementation demonstrate that biofuels -- particularly those produced from corn and soy -- have no such effect," the group said in its brief.

"The massive use of food crops as fuel degrades and destroys habitat, harming endangered and threatened wildlife, offers no demonstrated climate change mitigation benefits, causes substantial harm to air and water quality, and exacerbates environmental injustice, all while imposing many billions of dollars of increased food and fuel costs on consumers."

The center said that for the first time since 2007, EPA could have addressed the issues in the set rule.

"This rule cannot stand," the center said.

"By failing to find the requisite 20% climate benefit, acknowledging grave environmental and environmental justice harms, calculating at least $28 billion in consumer food and fuel costs, and providing no justification for the volumes, all while concluding the rule would not harm even a single individual of any listed species anywhere in the United States."

BIOFIESEL BEEF

The Sustainable Advanced Biofuel Refiners Coalition, which includes 46 companies and state-level soybean associations among other groups, argued in a brief that the EPA didn't follow the law in setting volumes for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels.

The group's concern is the EPA set rule illegally changes biodiesel's role in the RFS.

"EPA's post-2022 implementation rules for the biomass-based diesel program are counter to congressional intent where renewable diesel is merely displacing biodiesel rather than fossil fuel," the group said last week.

"EPA improperly ignored viable alternatives to implementing the volume requirements under Set to support biodiesel, renewable diesel, and renewable jet fuel. At a minimum, EPA is impermissibly requiring biodiesel to compete with renewable jet fuel, which is, by definition, not 'biomass-based' diesel. EPA's rules stemming from unlawful equivalence values for renewable diesel also disadvantage biodiesel compared to renewable diesel in violation of the statute and arbitrarily picking winners and losers."

PETROLEUM GRIPES

Refiners including American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Reh Company, Small Refineries Coalition, CountryMark Refining and Logistics LLC, The San Antonio Refinery LLC and Wynnewood Refining Co. LLC, allege in a brief the EPA did not conduct a thorough review of all biofuels volumes before finalizing the set rule as well as a second rule setting supplemental volume requirement resulting from the agency's illegal waiver of hundreds of millions of biofuels gallons in 2016.

The refiners said EPA was required by law to review the RFS program and how it was implemented from 2006 to 2022, while also giving 14 months' prior notice of the planned set rule.

"The rule is EPA's first attempt to apply this new statutory scheme in full," the refiners told the appeals court.

"EPA missed the mark. Despite knowing that this day would come, EPA promulgated the 2023 and 2024 standards unlawfully late and, for half of 2023, retroactively. For the 2023-2025 standards, EPA neither fully assessed the implementation of the program and all the required statutory criteria, nor meaningfully considered the costs and benefits of the rulemaking (despite costs appearing directly in the statute)."

The refiners asked the court to vacate the supplemental standard and remand the remainder of the 2023-2025 standards to EPA for new standards, "after comprehensively analyzing the RFS and its prior implementation, as Congress instructed."

As of now, no hearing date has been set for the case.

Read more on DTN:

"EPA Finalizes Multi-Year RFS Volumes," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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