Suit Demands EPA Show Documents Related to Big Oil Influence over Fuel Standards

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Suit Demands EPA Show Documents Related to Big Oil Influence over Fuel Standards

"Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?"

"The renewable fuel standards are one of EPA's most important tools for promoting clean air," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says. (Photo: Mike Mozart/flickr/cc)

A leading Washington, D.C. ethics organization filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday for failing to provide documents regarding oil industry efforts to influence the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Each year, the EPA sets the RFS for how much renewable fuel must be blended into transportation fuel supplies. "The renewable fuel standards are one of EPA's most important tools for promoting clean air," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) states in its lawsuit (pdf).

"Is the EPA slow-walking its release of these documents because it does not want the public to learn how political the RFS has become? The RFS should be based on sound energy policy, not politics."
—Melanie Sloan, CREW

CREW claims the EPA has yet to hand over all relevant communications—requested in May 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act—related to the EPA's most recent RFS proposal, put forth in November 2013. At that point, for the first time since the standards were established, the EPA proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel.

Citing news reports, CREW alleges that the proposed standards were "influenced substantially" by the Carlyle Group and Delta Airlines, both of which own oil refineries in Pennsylvania. Carlyle and Delta, which would both benefit financially if the amount of required renewable fuel was lowered, lobbied lawmakers, White House officials, and regulators to change the standards, CREW says.

"CREW does not take a view on whether the renewable fuel standards are set correctly," the organization said in a letter (pdf) to the EPA Inspector General dated May 22 of this year. "Our concern is that special interests with both a financial stake in the mandated renewable fuel levels and powerful political connections improperly influenced the process, resulting in proposed standards that would reverse the EPA's prior policy of increasing the required amount of renewable fuels."

While the EPA did—after many months and "much prompting from CREW"—release some documents, it has yet to comply with the full scope of CREW's request. 

"Is the EPA slow-walking its release of these documents because it does not want the public to learn how political the RFS has become?" asked CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. "The RFS should be based on sound energy policy, not politics. CREW’s lawsuit will shed light on what really went on at the EPA."

The ethics watchdog also wonders why, if the latest standards were proposed almost a year ago, they have not yet been finalized. Late last month, a study suggested that the failure to finalize the 2014 RFS would create an increase in greenhouse gas emissions equal to placing an additional 4.4 million cars on the road.

"It certainly seems as if the administration has backtracked on its commitment to renewable fuels. The question is why. Was there a back room deal orchestrated by big oil and high ranking officials in the Obama administration?" Sloan said. "Even though it is nearly 2015, the renewable fuel standards for 2014 still haven’t been released. Is this to avoid potential political fallout in the mid-terms for siding with the oil industry over the biofuel industry?"

According to The Hill, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency is looking into the lawsuit.

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