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Senators seek appeal of 10th Circuit ruling faulting the EPA's renewable fuels blending exemption program

CVS Refinery in Wynnewood is seen in 2013. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
CVS Refinery in Wynnewood is seen in 2013. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

A group of U.S. Senators are upset with a court's decision regarding renewable fuel blending.

Refiners across the nation are being asked to blend increasingly large amounts of fuel from renewable sources like ethanol into the nation's supply of retail gasoline that is sold to consumers, from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to nearly 10 times that amount by the end of 2022.

A decison made in late January by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit stopped an Environmental Protection Agency program used to offer exemptions from these requirements.

Oklahoma senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe are joined by 11 other senators who are urging the Trump administration to appeal the decision and seek to re-allow the exemptions.

Federal law initially exempted all small refineries from having to comply with blending requirements through 2010, then, allowed the EPA to issue exemption extensions through 2012 to refiners who could prove the blending requirements would cause financial hardship.

Beginning in 2013, refiners could petition the EPA to further extend exemptions that were effective through 2012.

EPA data shows 16 sought extensions in 2013. Only eight were granted (the EPA's website doesn't show how many exemptions were in place for 2012). In Fiscal Year 2017, 37 sought extensions of exemptions, and the EPA granted 35.

Renewable fuels advocates challenged the EPA’s decision to allow three small refiners (including one in Oklahoma) to avoid blending requirements set by the Clean Air Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The court ordered the EPA to re-evaluate decisions to extend exemptions to the CVS Refinery in Wynnewood, as well as two other small refineries owned by HollyFrontier in Wyoming and Utah.

A panel of three judges ruled the exemption extensions were invalid, given that the owners didn’t have standing exemptions in place when they asked for relief.

HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining in Wyoming, which submitted its petition for an extension in March 2017, had been awarded an exemption in 2011 and 2012, but hadn’t sought an extension of the 2012 order until 2015. That request was denied by the EPA under the Obama administration.

HollyFrontier Woods Cross Refining in Utah, which submitted its petition for an extension in September 2017, never had been granted an exemption beyond 2010.

CVS Refinery in Wynnewood received an exemption in 2011-2012, but not in subsequent years. It submitted its petition for an extension to the EPA in January 2018, as did 41 other refiners. The EPA granted extensions to 31, including CVS.

The senators’ letter states the judges erred in their ruling because the Clean Air Act includes language that states a small refinery may apply for hardship relief from the blending requirements “at any time.”

“If allowed to stand, the decision will put a dozen small refineries in the 10th Circuit under severe financial strain and thousands of jobs at risk,” the senators’ letter stated, noting that efforts already are underway in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., to get the 10th Circuit decision enforced nationally.

“We urge you, in the strongest terms, to file a petition for a rehearing en banc and, if necessary, seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Besides the Oklahoma senators, the letter was signed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Other senators who signed the letter include James E. Risch, R-Idaho; Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyoming; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; Steve Daines, R-Montana; John Kennedy, R-Louisiana; and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania; and Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi; also signed the letter.

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›