SCOTUS Opinion: Court Protects Small Refinery Exemptions To Renewable Fuel Program

As part of a renewable fuel program enacted by Congress under the Clean Air Act, the law allowed small refineries to be exempt from the Program’s requirements until 2011, then permitted the Environmental Protection Agency to extend that exemption for at least two more years if not doing so would cause “disproportionate economic hardship,” and further allowed any small refinery to “at any time petition . . . for an extension of the exemption” for that hardship. In Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining, LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association, certain small refineries received an exemption, let that exemption lapse, then re-petitioned the EPA for another exemption, which was granted. Some renewable fuel producers objected, and the Tenth Circuit vacated the exemptions, opining that the lapse cut off further eligibility.

The Court, in a 6-3 opinion by Justice Gorsuch, reversed, holding that nothing in the plain meaning of the word “exemption” required unbroken continuity, there being no mention of “consecutive” or “successive” exemptions. The majority rejected the argument that the overall purpose of the Program was to sunset such exemptions, noting that the Program appeared to allow for potentially indefinite relief. Justice Barrett, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, dissented, arguing that the Program did not allow the EPA to “extend” an exemption that a small refinery did not already have.

A link to the opinion is here: