WASHINGTON — Biofuel proponents calling for more transparency from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently got their wish to some extent.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced new efforts to provide greater transparency in the Renewable Identification Number market that’s used to show compliance with annual Renewable Fuel Standard requirements.

The EPA website now provides aggregate data on small refinery hardship exemptions as well as waiver requests for current and future compliant years.

“For the first time, EPA is providing new information to the public on small refinery exemptions and RIN trading,” Wheeler said.

“Increasing transparency will improve implementation of the RFS and provide stakeholders and the regulated community the certainty and clarity they need to make important business and compliance decisions.”

“In our corn-growing community, the RFS program is one of the top issues people are talking about. We hear concerns about lack of transparency around the issuance of small refinery waivers and we are hopeful these changes will put everyone on a level playing field to receive the information at the same time,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“Farmers stay on top of every bit of news that comes out about the RFS and their industry, so providing them with more information is a priority. Adding timely updates to EPA’s website will be important to USDA’s customers, the people of American agriculture.”

The new information includes:

  • The number of small refinery exemption petitions received, approved, and denied for each compliance year.
  • The weekly average price of RINs traded.
  • The weekly volume of RINs traded.

The EPA has been working to upgrade online systems to provide easy access to the most up-to-date information. These technical upgrades to the website serve to improve transparency in the agency’s implementation of the statute.

In posting the data, EPA will ensure the protection of confidential business information.

Moving forward, EPA intends to coordinate small refinery hardship decisions with website updates such that the recipients of waivers and the broader market receive the same information at the same time. The agency also will update information on RIN prices and trading volumes on a monthly basis.

Lawsuit Filed

The increase in small refinery exemptions has been a contentious issue for renewable fuel boosters. The Renewable Fuels Association recently filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., District Court against the EPA and Department of Energy seeking greater transparency.

RFA also filed two Freedom of Information Act request with EPA and DOE regarding the exemptions but have yet to receive responses.

The EPA previously has not disclosed the exact number of exemptions granted or the volume of required renewable fuel blending that is erased by small refinery exemptions.

Data released on the updated website shows the EPA received 34 small refinery hardship exemption petitions in 2017, 29 of which have been approved and five are pending. EPA approved 19 exemptions in 2016 with one pending.

Seven petitions were approved in 2015 and eight in 2014 and 2013.

Right To Know

“This is a step in the right direction, and we applaud Acting Administrator Wheeler’s initial efforts to provide greater transparency to the RFS program. This action may prevent small refiners from obtaining market-moving information before other participants in the marketplace,” said Bob Dinneen, RFA president and CEO.

“That’s important because it appears the RIN market was gamed earlier this year by a small group of refiners who were privy to sensitive information regarding compliance exemptions before the rest of the market knew what was going on. Hopefully, this will put a stop to that.

“However, more information and transparency are still needed. Market participants and the public deserve to know exactly who is receiving small refinery exemptions and what criterion is being used by EPA in making the decision to grant or deny a waiver request.”

“We appreciate the step Acting Administer Wheeler has taken to update the RFS data website to bring some initial transparency to refinery exemptions. This information is a good place to start,” said Kevin Skunes, National Corn Growers Association president.

“However, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. We will still not know EPA’s justification for granting a refinery waiver and, without a change in how EPA accounts for those exempted gallons; those waived gallons will still be lost from RFS obligations. It’s helpful to know when the harm is being done, but EPA needs to go a step further and take steps to mitigate the damage.

“We are still waiting for a plan to ensure exemptions are accounted for, with 2.25 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons waived during the past year and with 11 new 2018 petitions pending. With low commodity prices and an expected large corn harvest, America’s corn farmers need reliable markets for their crop.”

Tom C. Doran can be reached at 815-780-7894 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at: @AgNews_Doran.

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