Attorney General Nessel Joins Coalition in Fight for Renewable Fuel Industry in the U.S. Supreme Court

Contact: Kelly Rossman-McKinney 517-512-9342
Agency: Attorney General

April 2, 2021

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court supporting several renewable fuels and agricultural associations in their challenge to the EPA’s award of the small-refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).   

The RFS requires refineries to either produce more renewable fuels or buy credits from refineries who do. Renewable fuels produce less pollution than fossil fuels. 

“Freely granting exemptions to the oil industry directly undermines the promise of renewable fuels and has the potential to harm rural and urban Michigan communities,” Nessel said. “The judgment of the court of appeals should be affirmed.” 

The coalition filed the brief in HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining, LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association. The case asks the Supreme Court to decide the EPA’s authority to grant small-refinery exemptions to the RFS, which requires increasing use of ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels.  

The RFS exempted certain small refineries from complying with its requirements to blend renewable fuels into their gasoline or diesel fuel and gave EPA authority to extend the exemptions based on disproportionate economic hardship. Beginning in 2017, the EPA began granting a surge of small-refinery exemptions that harmed national demand for renewable fuels, causing ethanol and biodiesel plants to slow, idle, or close.  

A coalition of biofuels associations challenged the award of new exemptions to three small refineries that had not previously and continuously received the exemptions, as required by law. In January 2020, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that the EPA had authority only to grant extensions to a refinery that continuously maintained the exemption.  

In the brief, the coalition argues that the Tenth Circuit got it right. The plain language of the statute limits EPA’s authority to grant the exemption. And the more expansive interpretation pushed by the small refineries would gut the RFS, the brief says. The brief also explains how an ineffective RFS would cause substantial economic harm to the rural economies of Iowa and other states, hurt the environment, and hamper efforts to move toward energy independence. 

In February, the EPA and the Biden administration announced it supported the Tenth Circuit’s decision, and the Justice Department submitted a brief in support. 

The case will be argued before the Supreme Court by telephone conference at 10 AM Eastern time on April 27. A decision is expected by the end of June. 

Joining Attorney General Nessel in filing this brief are the Attorneys General of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia. 

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