The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is testifying on biofuel during his first hearing as EPA’s top post. The hearing is less than one month after he was called the acting head of the agency.
Wheeler sat in front of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday and said the EPA needs to provide certainty and clarity. Wheeler’s remarks and goals for the agency didn’t come without questions about his plan for ethanol and other biofuels.
Midwestern senators have been battling the EPA about the guidelines for granting hardship waivers to small refineries. The waivers exclude smaller refineries from Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) compliance.
“Just because a company is a small refinery doesn’t mean it should be entitled to a small refinery exemption,” said Wheeler.
“There are other market and business concerns to go under that analysis.”
When asked about the topic of transparency, Wheeler said he’s committed to providing more information about how the EPA makes the refinery exemption decisions.
“We are in the process of developing a dashboard, so we can put all the information out publicly,” said Wheeler. “So, the people know when we are issuing a small refinery waiver and the circumstances around that. We have to make sure we take into account any confidential business information of the company applying for the small business refinery exemption, but we want to be as transparent as we can and put all of that information, including our process, out for the public to see.”
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said the ethanol industry is better off with less waivers despite the potential for more transparency.
“Whether it’s one or twenty waivers, the public ought to know,” said Grassley.
“The excuses for not making it public under [former EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt aren’t legitimate. Wheeler [should] correct that.”
Grassley is more concerned with whether or not the final biofuels volumes released by the EPA actually includes the waivers.
“When the EPA announces, like they did a month ago, to move ahead with 19.5 billion gallons of biofuels to be blended with petroleum products, we want to know if that’s a net number and not a gross,” said Grassley.
“We’re told [the RFS number] is 19.5 billion gallons, we [want to know] it’s that amount and not like last year when [the EPA] promised 15 billion gallons of grain and then they subtracted the waivers from that [number]. It ended up being 13.5 billion gallons. We want to know what the net amount of bio-fuels that’s going to be granted in 2019.”
Grassley and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) are set to meet with Wheeler this week. Grassley said he plans on 90% of the conversation to cover biofuels.