Supreme Court Sides With Refiners on Biofuels Waivers

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A majority of the US Supreme Court on Friday sided with three refiners challenging restrictions on when so-called hardship waivers for small refineries from the federal biofuels mandate can be applied. In a 6-3 decision, the high court overturned a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit which rendered the waivers unlawful because companies that had received them during the Trump administration had not sought them in previous years (OD Sep.18'20). Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said that a small refinery being able to comply with biofuels mandates in one year is not “forever forbidden” from receiving an extension in any future year. “It is entirely natural -- and consistent with ordinary usage -- to seek an 'extension' of time even after some lapse,” Gorsuch said. “Think of the forgetful student who asks for an 'extension' for a term paper after the deadline has passed, the tenant who does the same after overstaying his lease, or parties who negotiate an 'extension' of a contract after its expiration.” The majority also pointed out that "just last year Congress twice passed laws providing for the 'extension' of public benefits that had lapsed or been interrupted.” But a dissent signed onto by Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor suggests that federal air law has a “direct and clear answer” that precludes such an extension, saying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “cannot 'extend' an exemption that a refinery no longer has," adding that the court majority is catering to an “outlier meaning” of the verb “extend.” At issue before the court was whether the Trump administration should have granted hardship waivers to three refineries operated by HollyFrontier and Wynnewood Refining Co., a long-standing policy fight that began in the early days of President Donald Trump's single term in office (OD Apr.27'21). Under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), refiners have to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel mix or buy tradable credits from those that do. Refiners under a certain barrel per day threshold can apply for “hardship” exemptions if they can prove those requirements would do them "disproportionate" financial harm. The exemptions emerged as a political flashpoint in 2017, when a court ruling relaxed the definition of "hardship" and the Trump EPA began doling out waivers in higher volumes than previous years, prompting pushback from biofuels manufacturers and some larger refiners (OD Oct.3'17). Bridget DiCosmo, Washington

Biofuels (incl. SAF)
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