Finkenauer Requests EPA Stop Blocking Investigation into Small Refinery Exemption Waiver Process

Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) is requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stop blocking the release of key information necessary for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to complete a federal investigation into the small refinery exemption waiver process.

The investigation is the result of Finkenauer’s efforts leading a bipartisan group of members in calling on the GAO to investigate the secretive process for approving small refinery exemption waivers. The GAO began the investigation earlier this year, but since May 2020, the EPA has ignored information requests and prevented the accountability office from performing its work.

On Tuesday, Finkenauer and a bipartisan and bicameral group of colleagues sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging his agency to stop the stonewalling and immediately comply with the GAO investigation.

Finkenauer is joined on the letter by: Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Congressman Collin Peterson (MN-07), Congresswoman Cindy Axne (IA-03), Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). 

“The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly attacked the Renewable Fuel Standard, and while the recent decision to deny pending gap-year waivers was welcome news, it does not undo the damage caused by years of this Administration’s abuse of small refinery exemption waivers,” Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer said. “Congress, our agricultural producers and the American people deserve to know how this process works, and how the EPA arrived at its decision to exempt Big Oil and its subsidiaries from the requirements of federal law. It’s past time for the EPA to quit stonewalling and start explaining.”

In the letter, the members wrote, “The GAO recently alerted our offices that the EPA has not been forthcoming with investigators. We understand that the GAO has requested the administrative records for all exemption petitions, including the documents that EPA receives from small refineries petitioning for these exemptions, documentation of Department of Energy (DOE) and EPA analysis and consideration of this information, and documentation supporting EPA’s final decisions on such petitions since the start of the program in 2011.”

“For several months now, the GAO has repeatedly sought this information from the EPA, first on May 28, 2020 and again on July 8, 2020 and July 16, 2020. Most recently, in letter sent on August 3, 2020, the GAO’s General Counsel asked that the EPA provide such documentation by August 17, 2020, a deadline which your agency has ignored,” the members wrote.

The GAO accepted the Finkenauer-led, bipartisan request in January to investigate the EPA’s secretive process for granting small refinery exemption waivers. Finkenauer and a bipartisan group of Midwest Members of Congressmade their initial request to investigate the EPA’s process in August 2019. 

The members asked the GAO to investigate:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s approval process for small refinery exemption waivers;
  • The role of the Department of Energy in reviewing and scoring waiver applications;
  • What factors are being considered in the assessment and approval of these applications.

Background on Trump Administration’s Undercutting of the RFS 

In 2019, the EPA announced it granted 31 new small refinery exemption waivers. Under the Trump administration, use of these waivers has more than quadrupled from the previous administration.

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 31 waivers in 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. 

Finkenauer is also a cosponsor of HR 3006, the Renewable Fuel Standard Integrity Act, which would set an annual June 1st deadline for refiners seeking exemptions from requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The bill would also allow certain information submitted by refiners to be made public, bringing much-needed transparency into the process. 

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