Supreme Court Backs Refiners in Biofuel Exemption Dispute

June 25, 2021 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Friday restored an exemption for small refineries from a federal law requiring them to blend increasing levels of ethanol and other renewable fuels into their products.

The 6-3 ruling is a setback for biofuels producers and overturned a lower court decision that said the Environmental Protection Agency erred in giving refineries in Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming extensions of waivers from the renewable fuel standard after their existing exemptions had expired.

The renewable fuel standard requires renewable fuel to be blended into transportation fuel in increasing amounts each year, escalating to about 36 billion gallons by 2022.

In addition, each renewable fuel category in the RFS must emit lower levels of greenhouse gases relative to the petroleum fuel it replaces.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch likened the position of the refineries to that of anyone who has ever needed more time to get something done, despite a deadline.

“It is entirely natural – and consistent with ordinary usage – to seek an ‘extension’ of time even after some time lapse,” Gorsuch wrote.

But Justice Amy Coney Barrett disagreed, writing in dissent that the EPA couldn’t possibly have extended an exemption that no longer existed. 

She was joined in dissent by two liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The case is the latest chapter in a long running dispute between the corn and oil industries. At its heart are changes made to the Clean Air Act to require biofuel quotas in U.S. gasoline and diesel products.

It was intended to reduce dependence on foreign oil and support fossil fuel alternatives.

In a statement, HollyFrontier Corp., one of the plaintiffs in the underlying suit, said  “We are pleased that our longstanding arguments were today validated by the Supreme Court.” 

The Biofuels Coalition, composed of the National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, and the American Coalition for Ethanol, expressed “extreme disappointment” in the decision.

“Nearly a year and a half ago, the Tenth Circuit handed down a unanimous decision that was ultimately adopted by the very agency we took to court in the first place,” the coalition members said. “While we are extremely disappointed in this unfortunate decision from the Supreme Court, we will not stop fighting for America’s farmers and renewable fuel producers. Further, we are optimistic that other elements of the Tenth Circuit decision, which were not reviewed by the Supreme Court, will compel the Biden administration and EPA’s new leadership to take a far more judicious and responsible approach to the refinery exemption program than their predecessors did.”

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