Wheeler: EPA will release new guidance on SRE program soon

By Erin Voegele | February 27, 2020

U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Feb. 27 the agency will soon issue new guidance on the Renewable Fuel Standard’s small refinery exemption (SRE) program related to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s Jan. 24 ruling that struck down three SREs previously issued by the EPA.

Wheeler made the statements during a Feb. 27 hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change on the EPA’s fiscal year 2021 budget request.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, questioned Wheeler on the EPA’s response to the Tenth Circuit Court’s opinion and cited a Feb. 26 report published by Bloomberg News that stated the agency has decided to limit SREs consistent with that court decision.

In response, Wheeler said he is unable to confirm that news. “We are still in discussions with the Department of Justice trying to analyze the Tenth Circuit opinion,” he said. Wheeler stressed that the agency has not yet made any final determinations on its response to the court decision.

Loebsack also asked Wheeler if the agency plans to provide new guidance based on the court decision, and when that guidance might be available. “We will, and hopefully very shortly,” Wheeler said.

During the hearing, Loebsack addressed issues related to transparency of the SRE program, and urged the EPA to, at minimum, release the names and locations of refineries that receive SREs. Wheeler, however, noted that sometimes the name of the company is legitimately considered confidential business information (CBI). He cited a Supreme Court decision issued a year and a half ago that instructed federal agencies to take CBI claims seriously and honor those claims. “We have multiple court decisions we are trying to implement here,” he said.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, also questioned Wheeler on the RFS program and SREs. While Wheeler stressed the EPA has no announcements regarding the SRE program at this time, he said the agency is very closely looking at the Tenth Circuit Court decision as well as other court decisions it has received. “This has been a very litigated area of the RFS and Clean Air Program, and we want to make sure that we comply with the Tenth Circuit opinion,” Wheeler said.

Flores also questioned Wheeler on the EPA’s post-2022 plans for the RFS. “With recent court decisions, we’re kind of busy trying to implement the recent decisions that we have for the current program,” Wheeler said. He said the agency is at the “very beginning stages” of considering what the RFS program will look like after 2022.

Growth Energy released a statement welcoming the hearing’s focus on biofuels. “We’re grateful to rural champions like Representative Dave Loebsack, who continue to press the EPA to enforce the RFS as promised by the president and required by law,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “We urge regulators to deliver certainty and stability for America’s farmers and biofuel producers by upholding the nation’s targets for low-carbon biofuels. That means quickly addressing the 23 exemption requests under review for 2019 and offering true transparency in accounting for each and every gallon. As recognized in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new innovation agenda, low-carbon biofuels are not only vital to the rural economy, they are a critical tool in our fight against climate change.”

A full copy of the hearing is available on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce website.