AG asks U.S. Supreme Court to block biofuels exemptions

    Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a national legal fight over biofuels mandates. | Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch

    The state of Michigan has joined seven others in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to side with biofuels interests in a fight over small-refinery exemptions.

    Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller announced the amicus brief Wednesday. Iowa is the top producer of both ethanol and the corn it is made of, and a major producer of biodiesel made from soybeans. 

    Miller and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson led the multi-state effort. To Miller’s surprise, the court agreed to hear a Trump administration appeal of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals case blocking the exemptions for refineries that hadn’t had them continuously.

    Attorney General Dana Nessel, March 5, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

    “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. The judgment of the court of appeals should be affirmed,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement to the Advance Thursday.

    Some refineries have asked to get out of a federal requirement to blend a certain amount of ethanol and biodiesel, arguing it is an economic hardship.

    “The EPA’s practice of freely granting exemptions to the oil industry has undermined the promise of renewable fuels and harmed Iowa’s farmers and biofuels industries,” Miller said. “I’m grateful that a bipartisan coalition of states has joined us in this effort.”

    Miller told reporters at a news conference he was surprised the high court took the case mainly because of the limited number of cases the court chooses to hear. Observers have wondered what effect, if any, the change to a new administration will have on the case. 

    In February, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it supported the 10th Circuit decision, Miller noted. The U.S. Justice Department submitted a brief supporting that view in the case before the Supreme Court.

    Miller said the small-refinery exemptions have reduced the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate by an average of 7% a year from 2017 through 2019. That led to $2 billion in lost sales for the biofuels industry.

    Miller’s brief also was signed by the attorneys general of Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota and Virginia.

    The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 9 a.m. April 27, with a decision expected by July.

    A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

    Perry Beerman
    Iowa Capital Dispatch senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.
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    Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.