Booker: We will stop the oil refinery waivers, as part of $3 trillion clean energy and infrastructure plan

September 3, 2019 |

In New Jersey, Senator Cory Booker announced that, if elected as US President, he would “Immediately end the granting of unwarranted RFS small refinery waivers to big oil companies, and substantially increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). 

Booker became the second US presidential candidate to commit to stopping what he termed the “small refinery waivers to big oil companies”. Last week, Senator Amy  Klobuchar of Minnesota said that if elected President in 2020,  in her first 100 days in office she would order a moratorium on oil refinery waivers issued under the Renewable Fuel Standard, restore the biomass-based diesel tax credit, work to expand availability of E15 ethanol in the United States.

Booker’s proposed action on the RFS and REAP were highlights in a comprehensive $3 trillion plan to “to Address the Threat of Climate Change and Build 100% Clean Energy Economy by 2045”, and you can read the full plan here.

The bipartisan push to stop the waivers

In July the Digest reported that “contrary to assertions by the EPA, the Energy Department confirmed in a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that the EPA has issued so-called economic hardship exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to small refineries, often owned by billion-dollar oil companies, even when the Energy Department found that the refineries faced little or no actual ‘hardship’.”

Last July we reported that Senator Chuck Grassley criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for biofuel blending in 2019 and hinted the hardship waivers granted by the agency may be illegal.

Former GOP congressional candidate and Iowa Renewable Fuels Standard executive director Monte Shaw wrote last month:

“Until the EPA reins in the abuse of (small refinery exemptions) and reallocates what has already been lost, billions of gallons of biofuel demand will be destroyed each year as (small refinery exemptions) explode around our industry like fireworks above the Washington Monument on the Fourth of July.

Iowa’s GOP Governor Kim Reynolds added:

I am incredibly disappointed to see that the EPA has failed to reallocate the millions of lost gallons due to their brazen and unprecedented use of small refinery exemption waivers. A robust (Renewable Fuel Standard) is essential to a healthy ag economy in Iowa and across the country. I urge EPA Secretary Wheeler to reverse course and uphold President Trump’s commitment to rural America by strengthening the (Renewable Fuel Standard) and putting an end to the abusive practice of granting waivers to profitable oil refineries.”

Democrats have joined Republicans in calling on President Trump to stop the oil refinery waivers.

Former Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Iowa Patty Judge added:

“This has been a difficult year for Midwesterners, we have received blow after blow. In typical times we come together and find bipartisan solutions, but these are not typical times, our current president has ignored the risks in farming, ignored the need for certainty, claims he is a friend to farmers, but has allowed EPA to hand out unprecedented numbers of exemptions to companies as large as Exxon and Chevron under the guise of economic hardship.”

The Trump Response

Last week, we reported that  USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue told the Illinois Farm Progress Show that President Trump will announce a plan to mitigate the impact of small oil refinery waiversthat have been issued in recent weeks. The Secretary did not offer a timeline, according to a Reuters report.

Secretary Perdue declined to offer details or a timeline, saying that “The president wants to come and deliver the message himself.” As we reported in our Bioeconomy 2020 poll earlier this week, President Trump’s support stands at 31.7 percent, substantially trailing his support in the country as a whole.

The Booker plan in detail

Booker said, “We are facing a dual crisis of climate change and economic inequality. Without immediate action, we risk an incredible human toll from disasters, health impacts, rising national security threats, and trillions of dollars in economic losses. To end the real and growing threat of climate change and to create a more just country for everyone, we must heal these past mistakes and act boldly to create a green and equitable future. That’s exactly what I’ll do as president.”

Booker’s plan would “build an economy that is 100% powered by clean energy and brings millions of jobs and investment to every corner of the country,” he said, with “unprecedented investment in clean energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles–the kind of technology and infrastructure that will power a carbon-free economy. Booker also committed to a carbon fee on fossil fuel sources at the coal mine, natural gas wellhead and oil refinery, and would fund a Moonshot Hub in all 50 states, each charged with tackling the most important and difficult challenges in basic science, applied research, manufacturing, and commercialization in their dedicated field.

Booker also said he would hal all fossil fuel subsidies, bar new fossil fuel leases, ban fracking and institute a progressive carbon dividend.

The Bottom Line

Much of what the Senator proposed — but not all — could come from executive action at the White House. Much would be left to the legislative process, and Booker would need a sweeping progressive waver in 2020 to ensure the implementatino of his full program. Congressional tracking polls do not yet reveal a wave of that kind of strength.

Action on the RFS is action from EPA and would be something that could be accomplished by executive action immediately in 2021 after a change in power at the White House. 

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