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EPA waits on DOE input to process small refinery waivers for 2018 from U.S. biofuel law

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is waiting to receive input from the Department of Energy to process 2018 applications exempting small refineries from U.S. biofuel laws, the agency’s administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a hearing at the House Appropriations Committee, Wheeler said he expected to receive the DOE input over the next couple of days and would process the applications “on a timely basis.”

“As far as the 2018 applications we have not received the official applications from DOE yet,” Wheeler said at the hearing about EPA’s budget. “We’re expecting those any day now, probably the next couple of days.”

Currently, there are 39 outstanding petitions for exemptions for 2018, EPA data shows.

The Renewable Fuel Standard is a federal program that requires that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum amount of renewables biofuels like ethanol each year, or that refiners buy blending credits from those that conform with the program.

But small facilities with a capacity of less than 75,000 barrels per day, that can prove that complying with the RFS would cause them significant financial strain, can seek to be exempted from the biofuel law.

The RFS program has been a financial boon for corn farmers in the Midwest, but merchant refiners say it has added hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs.

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Under President Donald Trump, the EPA has vastly expanded the program, granting waivers to plants of oil majors, including Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp, drawing the ire of the corn industry, a key Trump constituency.

The number of small refinery exemptions granted grew from seven in 2015 to at least 35 in 2017, EPA data shows.

Asked if the EPA was going to be able to rule on all of them within a 90-day period, Wheeler said it would try.

“If we get all 39 in one day it might be difficult to process all of them in 90 days, but we will do on a rolling basis,” he said.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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