Supreme Court hears arguments in SRE challenge

By Erin Voegele | April 27, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 27 heard oral arguments pertaining its pending review of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s January 2020 ruling on small refinery exemptions (SREs). The arguments focused largely how the Renewable Fuel Standard statute’s use of the word “extension” should be interpreted.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 24, 2020, issued a ruling that struck down three SREs that the court said were improperly issued by the EPA and held that the agency cannot “extend” exemptions to any small refineries whose earlier, temporary exemptions had lapsed.

The ruling stemmed from a May 2018 challenge brought against the EPA by Renewable Fuels Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol and the National Farmers Union.

The court’s decision was challenged by affiliates of Wynnewood Refining and HollyFrontier. The refiners in March 2020 requested a rehearing en banc of the Jan. 24 ruling. Those petitions were rejected by the court in April 2020.

The two refining companies escalated their challenge over the court ruling in September 2020 when they filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. The U.S. Department of Justice filed documents with the court in December recommending against Supreme Court review of the Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling. Despite that recommendation, the Supreme Court on Jan. 8 granted the petition for review filed by Wynnewood and HollyFrontier. The U.S. EPA has since spoken out to announce it has changed its position and now supports the Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling.

During the April 27 oral arguments, representatives of the small refineries argued for a broad interpretation of the word “extension” and against the lower court’s position that an “extension” can only be granted if a small refinery has received a continuous, uninterrupted string of SRE approvals.

The EPA and biofuel groups advocated for a narrower interpretation of the word “extension” and urged the justices to affirm the lower court’s ruling.

A full transcript of the April 27 oral arguments can be downloaded from the Supreme Court’s website