DC Circuit skeptical of EPA in biofuels battle

By Pamela King | 04/17/2024 01:26 PM EDT

Judges may force the agency to rethink a set of denials for renewable fuel standard exemptions.

Renewable fuel options pictured for sale at a gas station.

Renewable fuel options pictured for sale in 2016 at a gas station in Glyndon, Minnesota. Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa via AP

A federal appeals court appears likely to side with petroleum refiners fighting EPA denials of their requests for exemptions from federal renewable fuel requirements.

During oral arguments Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit grilled attorneys for the agency on whether they took too narrow a view of what constitutes financial difficulty sufficient to excuse refiners from their obligations under the Clean Air Act’s renewable fuel standard.

“Is it your position that a small refinery that is facing proportionate compliance costs cannot experience disproportionate economic hardship,” Judge Cornelia Pillard, an Obama appointee, asked Jeffrey Hughes, a Justice Department attorney arguing on behalf of EPA.


The case centers on what factors EPA can consider when deciding to waive RFS requirements for small refineries that face disproportionate costs. The standard requires refineries to either blend increasing volumes of biofuels into gasoline and diesel fuel or to purchase credits — known as RINs — from facilities that blend more than the required amount.