The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee on Jan. 18 questioned Oklahoma Attorney General and EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt for more than six hours in his confirmation hearing before the committee. The hearing touched on a wide range of environmental topics, including the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, ongoing efforts to change compliance responsibility under the RFS, and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and trucks.
Republicans were generally supportive of Pruitt, commending his views of a more balanced EPA that focuses on protecting jobs and businesses while also maintaining environmental standards. Committee Democrats, on the other hand, view Pruitt as only in favor of deregulation and questioned his support for the oil and gas industry. They criticized the number of lawsuits that Pruitt has brought against the EPA as Attorney General of Oklahoma.
As NATSO members are aware, under the RFS, refiners and importers are required to ensure that renewable fuels are integrated into the nation’s fuel supply. Recently, however, there has been a coordinated effort on the part of some refiners to encourage policymakers to shift compliance responsibility under the RFS from refiners and importers to “rack sellers” or biodiesel blenders.
NATSO has been leading a coalition of fuel associations in opposing these efforts to move the RFS compliance requirement downstream as it would discourage fuel marketers from integrating renewable fuels into the fuel supply while simultaneously raising prices at the pump.
During the hearing, Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) asked Pruitt if he was in favor of efforts to require biodiesel blenders -- rather than refiners -- to acquire renewable identification numbers (RINS).
Pruitt generally deflected at answering the question directly. Pruitt noted that there is an ongoing comment period at EPA on this particular issue, and it would be improper for him to “prejudge” the issue before that comment period closes. Pruitt further noted that there are several aspects of the program, including the RIN trading program and RIN fraud, that need to be better administered by the EPA. Sen. Duckworth questioned these comments, noting that changing the compliance structure would “undermine” the RFS program as intended by Congress.
Sen. Ernst stated that moving the RFS compliance obligations further downstream would “destabilize” the current RFS program. She also noted that a wide range of stakeholders, including NATSO, have each signed the same letter opposing a change in the compliance structure. She entered NATSO’s letter into the official hearing record.
With regard to EPA’s recent decision to keep light vehicle efficiency standards intact for Model Years 2022-2025 – a decision reached more than a year in advance of the EPA’s statutory deadline – Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked nominee Pruitt whether “this extreme action was appropriate or a hasty political decision.”
Pruitt agreed that the decision merited review and he committed to work with the Department of Transportation to address any possible impact on auto manufacturers and consumers. Pruitt also refused to commit to allowing California to implement more aggressive vehicle emission standards than the current national standards.
While most Democrats will oppose Pruitt’s nomination, he is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-led Senate.
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