NEW YORK (Reuters) – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday granted three waivers to oil refineries that exempt them from Biofuel blending obligations in the United States, a last-minute move before President Donald Trump leaves office on Wednesday.
The agency granted two waivers for the 2019 compliance year and one waiver for the 2018 compliance year. The announcement followed four years of controversy over the waiver program under the Trump administration, but left many unresolved questions. About 30 waiver requests remain pending for 2019 and 15 for 2020, which the incoming administration of Joe Biden will have to deal with.
The three waivers were granted to oil refineries, but it was not clear which refineries received the exemptions.
During his tenure Trump attempted to find a compromise between two main constituencies, farmers and oil refineries, who disagreed on national requirements for blending biofuels into the fuel blend.
Under the US Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries are required to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel blend or purchase credits. from those who do. Refiners can apply for an exemption if they can demonstrate that the requirements would cause them financial harm.
Biofuel producers and farmers say waivers hurt demand for their products, while oil refineries reject that claim and say they are needed to keep small refineries afloat. The Trump administration has significantly increased the number of waivers granted to refineries.
The administration recently announced a series of moves regarding US biofuel blending laws. The agency said this month that it was requesting comments on a potential general waiver for refineries for compliance years 2019 and 2020 and was also proposing a new rule that would remove or alter the labeling for retail gasoline that contains blends of higher ethanol.
The Trump administration grants two waivers to biofuels for 2019
The agency also said it was proposing to further extend deadlines for oil refineries to demonstrate compliance with blending requirements for the years 2019 and 2020.
Biofuel groups criticized Tuesday’s announcement.
“It scoffs at both the statute and recent court decisions that clearly limit the EPA’s authority and ability to grant these exemptions,” said Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association.
A lower court ruling that severely limited the government’s powers to grant exemptions is expected to be considered by the US Supreme Court later this year.
Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger