The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On August 15, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled two to one that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its statutory authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) when it denied Sinclair Oil Corporation’s request for a hardship exemption from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.  The statute requires that EPA grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis to small refiners that would suffer a “disproportionate economic hardship” in complying with the RFS program.  According to the court ruling, EPA’s interpretation that there needed to be a threat to the refinery’s survival as an ongoing operation to be eligible for the exemption is outside the range of permissible interpretations of the statute and, therefore, inconsistent with Congress’s statutory mandate.  To support its ruling, the court cited the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) matrix analysis that lists three viability metrics that determine hardships, including reduced profitability, temporary negative events, and risk of closure.  As a result of the ruling, EPA will have to reconsider Sinclair’s request for an exemption.
 
Justice Lucero respectfully dissented, stating that the majority decision did not consider EPA’s lengthy discussion, which demonstrates that the Agency considered all of the viability factors.


 

On May 6, 2014, in what is largely seen as a win for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the biofuels industry, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the challenge to EPA's final 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule by Monroe Energy, LLC (Monroe Energy), a refinery and subsidiary of Delta Airlines. In Monroe Energy, LLC v. EPA, the court held that EPA properly utilized its authority under the federal RFS to set the 2013 RFS volume requirements. The court disagreed with Monroe Energy that EPA did not sufficiently consider factors in setting the final 2013 RFS rule, including the means of compliance for obligated parties. Further, the court held that the RFS provides EPA wide discretion under its cellulosic waiver provision. As such, it was within EPA's discretion to decide against lowering the overall or advanced 2013 RFS requirements when it lowered the 2013 cellulosic requirements using that authority.


The May 6 decision did not include challenges to EPA's final 2013 RFS rule related to overall, advanced, and cellulosic biofuel requirements of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The court severed the API and AFPM challenges to the 2013 rule from Monroe Energy's challenge to the same rule. The court had earlier agreed to sever and hold in abeyance challenges to the cellulosic biofuel requirement under the 2013 rule while EPA reconsidered it.
 


 

On April 29, 2014, in a 6-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld EPA's view in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation L.P., U.S. Nos. 12-1182 and 12-1183. The opinion is available online.


The decision reverses a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, holding that EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) exceeded EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The CSAPR -- issued under the Obama Administration and which strengthened a similar rule issued in 2005 by the Bush Administration -- requires 28 upwind states to reduce power plant emissions to help downwind states achieve national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS).


The Supreme Court held that the EPA permissibly created the CSAPR, in part considering cost effectiveness. As such, it is within EPA's authority under the CAA to include within CSAPR its "Good Neighbor" provision requiring upwind states to help downwind states meet NAAQS and imposition of federal implementation plans (FIP) "after EPA has quantified the state's interstate pollution obligation." More information on the case and the Supreme Court's holding is available online.
 


 

On the first day of its new term on October 15, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would grant review of parts of EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. The Court will review part of the June 2012 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld EPA's GHG program. It will review whether EPA's GHG regulations for motor vehicles should have triggered Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting for stationary sources. The case and its outcome could impact the current efforts of the Obama Administration to develop and finalize new GHG regulations for new and existing stationary sources. It is reported that the Court is likely to hear arguments in the first few months of the new year.