After years of working to hobble biofuels and scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the country’s big oil companies have found a stealthy, backdoor way to do just that.
The folks at Big Oil are slipping out of their obligations to blend biofuels through something called a small-refinery exemption, or SRE. Requests for these exemptions, which were designed to help small, struggling refineries, are piling up faster at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) door than empty cans of Busch Light at an Iowa State tailgate party.
The EPA reportedly granted 50 SREs during 2016 and 2017. Those exemptions, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IFRA), destroyed demand for 2.5 billion gallons of ethanol and nearly 900 million bushels of corn. Oil companies have applied for at least 39 additional requests for SREs.
Here’s the kicker: The SREs aren’t going to small, struggling refineries as the RFS drafters envisioned. Instead, the requests are going to refineries owned by big, multinational oil companies, such as Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, which pump out billions of dollars in earnings.
Biofuel leaders and Iowa lawmakers are strongly urging the EPA to reject all of the 2018 exemption applications. As Monte Shaw, IFRA executive director, noted in a press conference last week, it doesn’t make sense to grant the waivers when farmers and ethanol plants are struggling. “There are a handful of steps they could take that would provide an immediate boost for farmers,” Shaw said. “First up are the small-refinery exemption decisions.”