By Stephen Cunningham
The Environmental Protection Agency will start deciding on 2018 waivers in the “next few weeks, month at the most,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Monday at an event at Monroe Energy LLC’s Trainer refinery in Pennsylvania.
Wheeler’s visit followed an invitation from the state’s Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who is renewing efforts with Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein to scrap the ethanol requirement in the Renewable Fuel Standard, calling it a “heavy-handed federal mandate” that drives up gas and food prices.
The so-called Renewable Fuel Standard has been a source of contention between agriculture and oil refiners, two constituencies that form part of President Donald Trump’s base. The fight over the small refinery exemptions has been particularly contentious. Wheeler’s visit to the refinery comes just a month after Trump toured an Iowa ethanol plant to laud his administration’s move to allow year-round higher sales of the corn-based fuel.
In the wake of Wheeler’s visit, the Fueling American Jobs Coalition — which represents a group of independent refiners — said it’s critical that the cost of complying with the standard is kept at a reasonable level, as reflected in renewable identification numbers. “Attempts to drive up RINs costs serve only to enrich a handful of traders and middlemen; they do nothing to benefit America’s refineries or farmers,” it said in a statement.
At the same time, the Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington-based trade group, extended an invitation for Wheeler to visit an ethanol plant to give him an opportunity to “hear the other side of the story.”
Wheeler and Toomey also spoke about bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions LLC’s refinery, which is shutting following a fire last month. “There is interest in that site. One of the ways” to improve the chances of it coming back is to have some certainty in their costs and fix the “arbitrary” price fluctuations in RINs, Toomey said.
Wheeler said he didn’t believe the agency had been asked to forgive PES another round of renewable identification numbers, or RINs, used to comply with biofuel quotas, after partially forgiving its obligations last year during the company’s first bankruptcy.
The agency hopes to have the annual reset for renewable fuel standard quotas finished by November, he said. “We are working through a number of the issues.”