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UPDATE: GAO approves request to investigate EPA refinery exemptions

UPDATE: Congresswomen Finkenauer's office tells KWWL that the Government Accountability Office has accepted the request for an investigation into EPA small refinery exemptions.

In an interview with KWWL, the congresswoman detailed what the GAO will review.

"Specifically, some of the recommendations that come from the Department of Energy that were possibly ignored. So this is what they're looking into. Also, why the president himself was able to call the EPA and just say 'issue these 31 waivers', where were the last 31 waivers issued," said Rep. Finkenauer.

The increase in refinery exemptions was criticized by Iowa lawmakers of both parties, fearing that it could hurt small farmers and biofuel producers in the state.

“Granting more than 80 small refinery exemption waivers isn’t just something this administration can sweep under the rug,” said Congresswomen Finkenauer in a news release. “Part of my job is making sure that Iowans voices are heard, and we will continue to fight against these repeated attacks on the Renewable Fuel Standard. I am grateful my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, joined together to put pressure on the Administration and find out why decisions are being made that protect Big Oil’s profits while devastating Iowa’s farmers and biofuel producers.”

(KWWL) - According to her office, Representative Abby Finkenauer has signed a letter that will be sent to the Government Accountability Office asking for an investigation into small refinery exemptions handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The letter is signed by a number of members of the House Biofuels Caucus including Democrat Iowa Representative Cindy Axne and Illinois Republican Representative Mike Bost.

An excerpt from the letter details an increase in waivers in the last few years:

"Between 2013 and 2015, the EPA granted no more than 8 waivers for any given year. The current Administration retroactively approved 19 waivers for 2016, then proceeded to grant 35 waivers in 2017, and now 31 waivers for 2018—exempting a total of nearly 4 billion gallons of fuel from the RFS. The number of waivers approved has grown exponentially with major corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron among those that received these economic hardship exemptions. This raises real questions about the review process and what other factors that the EPA is considering in approving the waivers."

An article posted to the EPA's website this month says small oil refineries can receive an exemption from annual Renewable Volume Obligations if they can prove that complying with those obligations would cause them financial hardship.

RVOs are defined by the group Growth Energy as follows:

Each summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a proposal governing how much renewable energy should be available to consumers in the year ahead. These targets are called Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) and they determine how many gallons of biofuel refiners will add to the motor fuel mix. After a proposal is issued, the agency then accepts comments from the public before issuing a final rule making under the RFS.

The letter from Finkenauer goes to say that an investigation "will bring much-needed transparency to the waiver approval process."

Rep. Finkenauer also released this statement after the EPA announced 31 new refinery exemptions:

"President Trump came to Iowa, looked my friends and neighbors in the eye and promised them he would protect the Renewable Fuel Standard. He gave them his word, and that should have meant something. Tonight, that promise is officially broken. His administration just allowed ANOTHER 31 refineries to ignore the law and exempted them from having to blend Iowa’s ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply. This protects big oil’s profits while devastating Iowa’s growers, who are already being hurt by the president’s never-ending trade war that he started, without a clear plan, on Twitter."

"I’m calling for the Government Accountability Office to step in and investigate this attack on the Renewable Fuel Standard which is hurting our farmers’ livelihoods & our environment."

The Iowa Corn Growers Association also weighed in.

“Granting of the additional 31 refinery exemptions are ridiculous and a slap in the face to farmers,” said Curt Mether, President of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and a farmer from Logan, Iowa. “The RFS could be one of the most effective energy policies in our country’s history, but the waivers gut the policy and destroy corn demand for farmers that are faced not only with challenges from mother nature but market destruction. It is time for President Trump to step in and uphold his promise to farmers and to the RFS.”

You can read the full letter sent to the EPA below:

Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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