May 1, 2019 / 11:04 AM / 4 months ago

RPT-U.S. EPA stalls biofuel waiver transparency plan after White House blowback -sources

(Repeats story originally published on April 30, no changes)

By Jarrett Renshaw, Chris Prentice and Humeyra Pamuk

April 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has suspended work on its plan to publish the names of refineries securing exemptions from federal biofuels law after receiving blowback from the White House and parts of the oil industry, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

The sources said EPA announced the plan on April 12 before the White House had time to review it, and without forewarning oil refiners who fear that publicly receiving waivers would be bad for their image and undermine their competitive edge.

If the EPA ditches or significantly alters the plan, it would anger the powerful corn lobby that has long agitated for more transparency in the notoriously opaque biofuel waiver program.

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries must blend certain volumes of biofuels into gasoline and diesel fuel or purchase credits from those that do. Small refineries of 75,000 barrels-per-day or less can get waivers if they prove complying with the regulation would cause them financial hardship.

The EPA currently does not name companies that apply for or receive the lucrative waivers, arguing the information is confidential. The corn industry wants that changed because it believes profitable companies are securing waivers, which is hurting farmers.

The sources told Reuters that the White House and oil industry were surprised by the plan, and that U.S. senators from states with small refineries were worried that plants would be forced to disclose sensitive financial information.

"The White House found out about it, but it was after the wheels were in motion," said one source who was briefed by the agency. "They certainly did not get time to review it or consider the implications."

The EPA has yet to publish the rule in the Federal Register, a step that normally happens swiftly to start the clock on finalizing the plan.

"I am not sure it ever gets in the register at this point," said another source, a DC-based oil lobbyist.

The EPA and White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The waiver program became a bone of contention between the rival oil and corn industries after President Donald Trump's EPA loosened eligibility requirements for exemptions, granting far more than ex-President Barack Obama's EPA did.

Small refineries owned by profitable oil majors like ExxonMobil and Chevron are among those that have gotten waivers since 2017, according to Reuters reporting.

Supporters of the expansion of the waiver program say EPA was forced issue more waivers after a U.S. Appeals Court said it was being too stingy with exemptions.

But critics say the expansion was politically motivated to help the energy industry, something EPA officials have denied. (Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Chris Prentice in New York and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Gregorio)

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