Ernst blocks nomination of deputy EPA administrator over SREs

By Erin Voegele | June 26, 2020

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, announced she will block the nomination of Doug Benevento to serve as deputy administrator of the U.S. EPA until the agency discloses exactly how it plans to deal with gap year small refinery exemption (SRE) petitions under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The EPA on June 18 released data showing small refineries have filed 52 gap year SRE petitions in an effort to circumvent the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s Jan. 24 ruling that struck down three SREs. As part of that ruling, the court determined that the EPA cannot extend exemptions to any small refinery whose earlier, temporary exemptions had lapsed.

Wynnewood Refining and HollyFrontier challenged the ruling in March by seeking a rehearing en banc. The court, however, rejected those petitions on April 7. The EPA has not yet announced how it plans to implement the court’s ruling.

The 52 gap year SRE petitions filed with the EPA to date represent an effort by several impacted refineries to establish a continuous chain of exemptions allowing those refineries to continue to be eligible for future SREs. Ernst is among a group of 16 senators that has urged the EPA to deny gap year SRE petitions.

President Trump nominated Benevento to fill the post of deputy administrator of the EPA in February. He currently serves as associate deputy administrator of the agency. He was questioned on the EPA’s SRE policy during a March 11 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Ernst is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which provides oversight of the EPA. Without her vote, Benevento will not be brought before the committee and therefore the path forward for his nomination no longer exists.

“Until EPA tells us exactly what they plan to do with the ‘gap year’ waivers, Mr. Benevento does not have my vote,” Ernst said. “Iowa’s hardworking ethanol and biodiesel producers are sick of being yanked around by Andrew Wheeler and the EPA. Our producers need certainty; until we get that, no EPA nominee is getting my vote.”

Information released by Ernst’s office explains this is not the first time the senator has held up and EPA nominee. She also held up the nominee to lead the EPA’s air office until the former administrator, Scott Pruitt, committed in writing that he would not seek to reduce the biofuel requirements.