Watchdog investigating how EPA handled small refinery waivers


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — After months of complaints from farmers, a government watchdog has agreed to launch an investigation examining how the Trump administration is handling its small refinery waiver program.

The waivers are supposed to go to oil refineries that can’t afford to blend ethanol. But Midwest lawmakers say the system is being abused, and it’s costing farmers millions.

Rep. Cindy Axne and Rep. Abby Finkenauer, both Democrats from Iowa, are hoping a new investigation by the Government Accountability Office will unveil what they call abuse by the Trump administration. They say the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law by allowing a record number of oil refineries to opt out of blending ethanol.

“That doesn’t just hurt our farmers, either,” Axne said. “We’ve seen John Deere lay off people, we have ethanol plants who literally have closed down.”

Axne added that excessive waivers cost farmers millions and should only go to small producers — not fuel giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that our farmers get a fair shake,” Finkenauer said.

The congresswomen, along with 10 other Midwest lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, started calling for an investigation in August 2019.

But those in the oil industry, like Derrick Morgan with American Fuel Petrochemical Manufacturers, doubt the results will dig up anything.

“Small refinery exemptions haven’t impacted the overall marketplace, so I think this investigation is without purpose in that regard,” he said.

Morgan says he believes the investigation will prove the law was followed.

“As more ethanol has been required to be blended into gasoline, it’s not surprising that more small refineries would be able to show that they’re disproportionally impacted.”

The GAO says the investigation will begin in the next few months, but don’t know how long it will take to complete.

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