RFS Small Refiner Exemptions Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reduces RFS obligations by hundreds of millions of gallons by granting retroactive exemptions to oil refiners. Refiners are allowed to sell or carry forward returned RIN credits, reaping a windfall while destroying demand for biofuels in the present year.

In the 2020 RFS rule finalized in December 2019, EPA recognized its duty to ensure the RFS volumes it sets each year are not reduced through these exemptions.

In January 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that EPA "opened a gaping and ever-widening hole" in the RFS program by abusing these exemptions. The court limited EPA's authority to grant exemptions only in cases where the RFS is the direct cause of hardship.

Clean Fuels is monitoring EPA as it considers small refinery exemption petitions -- there are pending petitions for every year 2011-2020. Clean Fuels continues to pursue several legal avenues to close the gaping hole in the RFS program caused by small refinery exemptions.

Clean Fuels works with its members to advocate to EPA to ensure RFS volumes for biodiesel and renewable diesel are made whole. Clean Fuels also asks Members of Congress to exercise oversight and ensure EPA follows the law in granting small refinery exemptions.

As our members communicate with Members of Congress, EPA and other Washington policy makers, the media, and the public, Clean Fuels works with them to amplify these points:

  • Just one small refinery exemption can eliminate demand for an entire biodiesel facility. A “small” oil refinery can produce up to 3 million gallons of fuel per day. It’s annual RFS obligation for biodiesel is only 20 million gallons, which is more than some small biodiesel plants produce in a year.
  • U.S. courts consistently find that EPA fails to fully or consistently explain its small refinery exemption decisions.
  • EPA began freely handing out small refinery exemptions before receiving the Congressional directives and Court decisions they currently cite as justification.
  • EPA has ignored Department of Energy recommendations regarding whether small refinery exemptions are merited.


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