EPA grants waiver to oil refinery owned by billionaire ex-Trump adviser: report

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A fossil fuel company owned by former Donald Trump adviser and billionaire Carl Icahn received a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meant to help small refineries struggling to meet fuel standards.

The waiver would exempt Icahn’s refinery in Oklahoma from the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which could save it tens of millions of dollars, Reuters reported Monday.

With the waiver, Icahn’s company, CVR Energy Inc., can avoid compliance with an EPA biofuel regulation that mandates that businesses spend money to mix oil and gas products with ethanol or buy renewable fuel credits. 

The Obama administration had denied the refinery an exemption, according to Reuters.


The law requires the EPA to help small refineries who struggle to meet the RFS without severely damaging their bottom line, but others have said that the program allows too many larger refineries to skirt EPA regulations.

Icahn was an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy for the presidency. He also reportedly met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt while Pruitt was being vetted for the job.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency hasn’t changed how it vets waiver requests.

“The criteria used to grant waivers has not changed since previous administrations. EPA follows a long-standing, objectively determined process where the Agency uses a Department of Energy analysis to inform decisions about refiner exemptions/waivers, for refineries that are below the statutory threshold,” said Jahan Wilcox, EPA spokesman, in a statement. “EPA decisions on waivers are based on refinery-specific information that is subject to confidential business information protections.”

The EPA confirmed that since April 24 it has approved 24 and denied one small refinery exemption request. Four requests remain pending. An agency official said that currently 38 U.S. plants would qualify for exemptions. 

Icahn previously served as Trump’s special regulatory adviser but in August stepped down from the position after lawmakers raised concerns about his role playing both an adviser and an investor.

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating Icahn’s efforts to change biofuel policy during his tenure as Trump’s adviser.

In early April, the Trump administration came under fire by the ethanol industry and environmental groups for granting 25 small refinery exemptions. Previous administrations had granted between six to eight waivers under the ten-year-old program. 

The RFS defines a small refinery as creating no more than an average of 75,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

However, much larger oil and gas companies have sought to get in on the small refinery exemption, with giants Chevron and Exxon both seeking waivers under the program in early April, according to Reuters.

The fight over which companies must comply with the RFS is exacerbated in light of a heated battle between “Big Oil” and “Big Corn” on whether the Trump administration should change the current RFS standards. The ethanol industry is arguing that the current standards are necessary to financially benefit the struggling industry while oil and gas producers have argued that the regulations are unnecessarily burdensome.

This post was updated 1:27 p.m.

Tags Biofuels Carl Icahn corn lobby Donald Trump EPA Justice Department Obama administration Refinery Scott Pruitt waivers
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