Senators question EPA nominee on agency’s SRE policy

By Erin Voegele | March 11, 2020

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on March 11 to consider the nomination of Douglas Benevento to serve as deputy administrator of the U.S. EPA. During the event, Benevento was questioned by several senators on the agency’s small refinery exemption (SRE) policy.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, discussed the Jan. 24 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned three SREs approved by the EPA. Earnst said the court determined the agency abused the SRE program by granting exemptions in an arbitrary and capricious manner. “These illegal SREs caused over 4 billion gallons of demand destruction for ethanol and biodiesel, and it shut down numerous plants across the heartland, depressing commodity values in an already uncertain time for my farmers and my producers,” Ernst said, and asked Benevento to commit to not granting any more SREs until the legal action is settled.

In response, Benevento explained that the review over whether or not to appeal the court’s decision is ongoing, and that he will not be brought up to speed on what is happening internally at EPA until his confirmation process is complete.

Ernst explained that ethanol producers, farmers and even some members of the oil industry have been yanked around by EPA’s RFS SRE policy. She said the EPA should elect not to appeal the court’s ruling and rather implement the court’s standard and look for other ways to provide relief to small refineries. “We have had ethanol producers that have shut down—not the threat of small refineries that may shut down some day—we’ve had ethanol plants shut down,” she said. “We’re following the law. We believe EPA should follow the law as well.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., also questioned Benevento on the EPA’s SRE policy and strongly suggested the agency approve no more SREs at this time.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed hope that the EPA will appeal the court’s ruling and asked Benevento if he could ensure that small refineries are given some sort of relief with regard to their blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Benevento said that his is not yet involved in the agency’s internal discussions on the court’s decision, but committed to work toward a solution that is equitable for everyone.

A reply of the hearing is available on the committee’s website.