Iowa senators oppose confirmation of Menezes to DOE post

By Erin Voegele | August 05, 2020

The U.S. Senate voted 79 to 16 on Aug. 4 to confirm Mark Menezes as deputy secretary of energy. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, voted against his confirmation, citing concerns related to small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“Given the uncertainty with the ‘gap year’ small refinery waivers, the wasted time and resources to score the waivers again, the lack of transparency in the entire process, and most importantly, the toll this has taken on Iowa’s farmers and biofuel producers, we could not in good faith support Mr. Menezes at this time,” Grassley and Ernst said.    

The two senators sent Menezes a letter on Aug. 4 stressing that the gap year SRE petitions the U.S. Department of Energy has been asked to score “would increase the pain facing the biofuels industry and the rural communities that biofuels support.”

“These petitions threaten to undercut the RFS and fail to meet the standard set by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision on the use of SREs,” the senators continued. “The EPA's decision to send them to DOE for a technical analysis erodes the public's trust in the rule of law and the ability for the EPA and DOE to faithfully implement the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).”

The letter references a July 2 letter Menezes sent to Grassley and Ernst responding to their inquiry regarding how the DOE scores SRE petitions. That letter from Menezes confirmed that the DOE was reviewing petitions already reviewed by DOE. “We now understand that all petitions have been sent back to EPA and that this was a demand from oil-state senators for your nomination to be considered,” the senators wrote. “We have concerns this process is not transparent and does not promote accountability in government. Given the remaining questions about how and why these petitions were scored, we could not support your nomination when it came before the Senate.”

Grassley and Ernst noted that confidential business information (CBI) has been used in previous years as a rationale to avoid public disclosure of the decisions taken by DOE and the U.S. EPA. “However, this rationale cannot be used to shield Congress from conducting oversight responsibilities and we ask for a more transparent and collaborative process going forward,” Grassley and Ernst wrote.

“While you state that specific company names, number of petitions, and the year of the petition are considered CBI, we would ask that you provide a legal opinion on how providing such basic information could cause damage outweighing the public’s right to know about decisions its government is making,” they continued. “Regardless, we ask that you work to provide a confidential setting for our staff to review past year petition analysis along with current year analysis to allow us to conduct our congressional oversight duties.

“We also request that you provide the public with information on DOE's score of each petition and when the score recommendation was transmitted back to EPA,” Grassley and Ernst wrote.

President Trump nominated Menezes to serve as deputy secretary of energy on Feb. 13. The DOE said an official swearing in will take place at a later date. Prior to his confirmation, Menezes served as the undersecretary of energy under Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Menezes previously served as an executive with Berkshire Hathaway Energy and as a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP. Prior to joining Hunton, Menezes served as chief counsel of energy and environment for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he was chief negotiator in the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. He also previously served as vice president and associate general counsel for American Electric Power.

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from Grassley’s website.