Midwest attorneys general ask Supreme Court to block biofuels exemptions

    Photo by Sam Gellman Photography/Getty Images.

    Attorney General Keith Ellison and seven other attorneys general have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to side with biofuels interests in a fight over small-refinery exemptions.

    Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson led the effort to file an eight-state amicus brief with the nation’s high court. 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.

    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.

    “We want to disgorge their profits — take the unjust profits they’ve made,” Ellison said at a press conference in June. “And we want them to fund a public education campaign to help the public understand that the lies they told were lies.”

    Ellison is asking for a to-be-determined amount of restitution and for defendants to sponsor a “corrective public education campaign” on climate change.  

    Miller told reporters at an Iowa Statehouse 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 announced it supported the 10th Circuit decision. 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.

    Minnesota is the fourth-largest ethanol producer in the US, creating 1.3 billion gallons a year. 

    Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota and Virginia attorneys general signed the brief. 

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

    Reformer reporter Gracie Stockton contributed. 

    Perry Beeman
    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.