OMAHA (DTN) -- Though the EPA still is on track to complete an E15 rule in time for the start of the summer driving season on June 1, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Wednesday that could change if the partial government shutdown lingers.
During Wheeler's confirmation hearing to be the permanent administrator before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, he outlined for the committee what emergency functions the agency continues to perform during the partial shutdown.
Work on the E15 rule is not among them.
Even prior to the shutdown the agency had little time for delay in completing a rule on time.
"We're still on schedule, but we're not able to work on the rule during the government shutdown," Wheeler told the committee. "It is not a court-ordered deadline for us as it is not considered an emergency. We may be slightly delayed at some point. We will get it out before the driving season, as long as the shutdown doesn't go on, within reason."
Wheeler also was quizzed on how the EPA will be approaching small refinery waiver requests to the Renewable Fuel Standard. 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.
When asked about his approach to the waiver program by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, 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.
"We've had three court cases on the small refinery program," he said. "EPA has lost all three in courts. We are moving forward to implement the program. There are two competing issues. It takes barrels away from the RFS. There's not a lot of leeway for us."
On the other hand, Wheeler said if the agency were to reallocate biofuels gallons lost to waivers to larger refiners it would "have a rolling effect."
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 Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs. Once 2022 rolls around, the RFS can be implemented by the EPA and USDA.
"We will have to make some decisions on what the RFS looks like post-2022," he said.
During his testimony, Wheeler touted the agency's deregulatory efforts during his time with President Donald Trump's administration.
"In 2018, EPA finalized 13 major deregulatory actions, saving Americans roughly $1.8 billion in regulatory costs," Wheeler said. "To date, under President Trump, EPA has finalized 33 major deregulatory actions saving Americans almost $2 billion."
In addition, Wheeler said the newly proposed waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule will make it easier for farmers and other landowners to be able to identify jurisdictional waters on their own. "For the first time, we are clearly defining the difference between federally protected wetlands and state protected wetlands," he said in written testimony.
Wheeler began his career at the EPA in the 1990s, as a special assistant in the agency's pollution prevention and toxics office.
On April 12, 2018, Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate as deputy administrator of the EPA. Prior to that confirmation, Wheeler was a principal and team leader for the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, where he practiced until 2009.
During that time, he did consulting work for Growth Energy, Archer Daniels Midland, General Mills, and lobbied for the likes of Sargento Foods, Underwriters Laboratory, as well as for a variety of energy and other companies.
Prior to his lobbying work, Wheeler was the majority staff director and chief counsel, and minority staff director of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) for six years. Most notably, Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who is a vocal critic of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Prior to his work with the Senate EPW Committee, the Hamilton, Ohio, native served in a similar capacity for six years for the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, Wetlands and Nuclear Safety. Wheeler has a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, a master's degree in business administration from George Mason University, and he completed his undergraduate work in English and biology at Case Western Reserve University.
Among the legislation Wheeler was involved in during his time with the Senate were the two RFS bills -- the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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