All the way to the U.S. Supreme Court: Corn growers, ethanol producers square off with oil refineries, EPA

News StaffApril 28, 2021Agriculture News
Renewable Fuels Association

WASHINGTON, DC – A majority of farmers in states like South Dakota supported a Trump administration that ultimately betrayed them in corn production, processing and marketing ethanol at the fuel pumps.

After having promised the nation’s growers that renewable fuel standards were safe under his tenure, oil refineries were granted waiver after waiver, excusing them from the requirement that renewable fuel (ethanol) be blended into transportation fuel.

That was followed by his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denying the commercialization of 30 percent ethanol blends – a move critics says was yet another example of the Trump administration protecting petroleum refiners.

Farmers having to sue the very administration they voted for followed. And now, the biofuels industry and the Environmental Protection Agency and oil refineries have laid out their arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on granting refinery exemption extensions under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“EPA has illegally manipulated data to create barriers that unfairly protect petroleum refiners while harming the public health and welfare and rural communities,” said Doug Sombke, president of South Dakota Farmers Union, in an earlier interview.

Christopher Michel with the Department of Justice says refineries must consistently hold exemptions. “But if a small refinery no longer has the exemption, it cannot obtain an extension. EPA cannot grant something that does not exist. That is the ordinary, common sense meaning of the statutory text,” Michel says.

The EPA, which is represented by the DOJ, agreed with a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that only small refineries who are continuously exempt from the ethanol blending requirements are eligible for future extensions.

Michel says the RFS has worked since the program began in 2005. “The vast majority of small refineries including petitioners have successfully complied with the RFS in many prior years. The statue creates flexibility to facilitate ongoing compliance and other tools exist to address other challenges.”

Peter Keisler, representing an oil refinery, says extensions don’t have to be continuous if a refinery is facing an economic hardship. “Driving those small refineries out of the market would undermine the statue’s energy and independence goals and that’s one of the reasons Congress authorized them to petition at any time based on hardships.”

A ruling is expected in June.

“Farmers don’t want taxpayer handouts—we want the ability to compete freely in the gasoline marketplace,” said Sombke in the same earlier interview.  “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to increase octane in gasoline, which would provide a huge boost to ethanol.  It also has the legal obligation to substantially reduce the toxic, carbon-intensive, oil-based compounds refiners currently use for octane.”