Senators aim to limit USDA influence over SRE decisions

By Erin Voegele | July 03, 2019

Several U.S. senators representing oil producing and refining states are trying to limit Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s influence over the U.S. EPA’s process of evaluating small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, sent a letter to Perdue June 27 stating he will block the confirmation of three department nominees until the USDA stops interfering with the EPA’s handing of SREs. The nominees include Scott Hutchins as agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics; Mindy Brashears as undersecretary for food safety; and Naomi Earp as assistant secretary.

“I am deeply troubled by reports that you, in your role as Secretary of Agriculture, are attempting to influence decisions on small refinery waivers at the EPA despite clear authorization by the Clean Air Act which clearly prevents the Secretary of Agriculture from consultation on these waivers,” Kennedy wrote. “Your efforts in this matter not only disregard congressional intent of the law, but also threaten thousands of jobs in Louisiana and across the country.”

Within the letter, Kennedy said he believes the EPA should maintain its current policy “through granting all pending small refinery exemption applications at the full exemption levels” and “the EPA should not reallocate previously exempted gallons on obligated parties, nor should it allocate SRE gallons on a prospective basis.”

Less than a week later, on July 1, a group of 13 senators, including Kennedy, sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to prohibit Perdue from influencing the decision-making process over SRE petitions.

“We strongly oppose giving the secretary any role in the decision-making process over the petitions,” the senators wrote.” The Clean Air Act authorizes only ‘the administrator [of the Environmental Protection Agency], in consultation with the Secretary of Energy to act on petitions from small refineries. The law does not give any authority or role over the petitions to the Secretary of Agriculture. Any effort to provide the secretary of agriculture influence over the petitions requires an act of Congress.”

The letter was signed by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming; Shelly Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi; John Cornyn, R-Texas; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania; John Kennedy, R-Louisiana; Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Steve Daines, R-Montana.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, released a statement July 1 in response to reports of new threats to the RFS. “For years, Big Oil and its advocates on and off Capitol Hill have worked hard to undermine the RFS and dole out ‘hardship’ waivers to oil companies without regard to actual need,” he said. “Hardship waivers should be the exception, not the rule, and they have been abused for far too long. President Trump has promised time and again to farmers and agribusinesses in Iowa and throughout Rural America to uphold the integrity of the RFS and follow the law as it’s written. I’ve been encouraged by the commitments made by President Trump regarding ethanol and the RFS and am confident that he will continue to keep his promises. I would expect that the Environmental Protection Agency, with input from USDA, and any other legitimate source, will honor President Trump’s commitment to follow the law.”

A copy of Kennedy’s letter to Perdue can be downloaded from Kennedy’s website.

A copy of the letter to Trump can be downloaded from the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works website


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