During his State of the Union address, President Biden explained that his administration’s economic plan is to invest in the people and places that have been “forgotten.”
“They remember, in my old neighborhoods, why the jobs went away, and wonder whether a path even exists anymore for them to be counted in — these invisible folks that I grew up with,” President Biden recalled in another recent speech.
One policy that continues to threaten tens of thousands of family-sustaining union jobs nationwide – including thousands in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) proposal for 2023 through 2025. For years, union leaders across the country have been calling on the EPA to fix the RFS.
If EPA’s RFS proposal remains unchanged, many refinery workers wonder if a path for them will still exist.
On January 10 and in subsequent written comments submitted to EPA, union leaders and representatives from independent refineries across the country urged President Biden to fix the RFS by lowering the ethanol requirements in EPA’s proposed renewable volume obligations (RVOs) for 2023, 2024, and 2025.
In their testimonies and written comments, skilled tradesmen and women urged EPA to lower its proposed RVOs to 13.9 billion gallons of ethanol per year to reflect an attainable level based on the federal government’s own data. Below are excerpts from their testimonies and submissions, articulating what is at stake if President Biden and EPA refuse to head their calls:
Independent refiners are vital to our nation’s energy and national security. As all commenters correctly state, America has lost a significant amount of its refining capacity thanks to the RFS. EPA’s biofuel mandate is making us more dependent on foreign fuels.
United Steelworkers: “Several company statements and press reports indicate that approximately 30 percent of these [independent refinery] closures and announced closures were attributable to the high costs associated with the RFS, coupled with other regulations. Some of these facilities converted to renewable diesel plants, but rather than adding jobs and fuel supplies, these converted refineries will make 70 percent less fuel with about a third or less of the petroleum refining workforce.”
Jim Maravelias, Delaware Building And Construction Trades Council: “The EPA needs to stop playing Russian Roulette with the nation’s fuel supply and union jobs. The Agency acknowledges its proposed ethanol mandate cannot even be met with ethanol but is still proposing a grossly unachievable requirement; and the highest one EVER.”
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: “Evidence has shown that higher RINs do not lead to higher blend rates of ethanol – but they do lead to refinery closures and higher prices at the pump for all Americans. Since 2019, the U.S. has lost 1.4 million barrels a day of refining capacity, resulting in 5,000 refinery jobs nationwide. In fact, one east coast refinery cited RINs prices when declaring bankruptcy in 2008.”
Joshua Abernathy, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers LU 8: “The U.S. now relies on massive imports of foreign biofuel and renewable diesel to meet RFS requirements. Now, with U.S. diesel inventories at record lows, Americans could face a heating oil supply crisis this winter if more refineries are forced to close.”
Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council – “As we've seen with the horrific events taking place in Ukraine, the importance of American energy independence has never been clearer, and Northeast refiners are indispensable partners in ensuring that this continues.”
The RFS functions as a hidden tax on American consumers – adding up to 30 cents to prices at the pump. As Americans continue to reel from record-high energy prices, EPA’s currently proposed RVOs will only exacerbate this financial suffering.
United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America: In 2022, analysts estimated that the existing RFS program added 20 to 30 cents per gallon at the pump for consumers. The proposed rule for 2023 and beyond will hit consumers at the pump even harder. The Agency’s proposed rule acknowledges that 15.25 billion gallons of conventional biofuel it seeks to require per year cannot be met with ethanol. To that end, the proposal will force independent refiners to buy an even larger number of more expensive RINs to comply with the RFS.
Independent refiners and union workers spoke to the importance of energy manufacturing jobs, which are integral to the communities they serve. These family-sustaining occupations, many of which span generations, are in danger of permanently disappearing thanks to the financial burden that the RFS places on independent refiners.
North America's Building Trades Unions: “Domestic merchant refining industry provides union construction workers with thousands of steady middle class sustaining jobs. When refineries invest in new capital or major maintenance projects, they typically employ thousands of additional skilled craft workers. However, wildly volatile and excessive RIN prices have curtailed many of these multi-million-dollar projects and have forced closures. As history has shown, once these facilities come down, they rarely come back.”
William F. Adams, IBEW 654: “President Biden has historically served as a vocal champion for hardworking union men and women, and he stated that his Administration is the most pro-union administration in American history. Now more than ever, President Biden must honor this commitment and take immediate action to fix the RFS and save thousands of union jobs before it is too late.”
James Dietz, Monroe Energy: “Nearly 11 percent of Monroe’s employees are either former or current military service members and they have a program which focuses on hiring veterans called Military-to-Monroe. But all of this could disappear for me and my fellow team members if the RFS is not reformed in a meaningful manner soon. High RIN prices have created a persistent and insurmountable financial hurdle for independent refiners, threatening to destroy tens of thousands of good-paying jobs like mine nationwide.”
Ken Gomeringer, United Steelworkers: “In 2009, Valero shut down the Delaware City Refinery. We all lost our jobs and felt firsthand the economic hardship that followed. We were lucky enough to eventually find a buyer for the refinery. The refinery was reopened, however, the impact of the closing will never be forgotten. I would hate to see my union brothers and sisters as well as all the employees of the Delaware City refinery go through that again.”
United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry: “For example, First Energy’s Toledo Refinery directly and indirectly contributes $5.2 billion annually to the Northwest Ohio economy, while PBF Energy’s Delaware City refinery generates nearly $400 million in direct economic value for the state of Delaware. These estimates are consistent with modeling published by the federal government, which shows that even a small refinery producing only 30,000 barrels per day directly and indirectly supports nearly 3,000 full-time jobs associated with refinery operations. The refining industry also has a substantial union presence, and the average hourly wage for non-supervisory refinery operators exceeds $41.00/hour. This data shows that independent, merchant refiners are a valuable source of good-paying, middle- class, union jobs—the exact types of jobs that are badly needed in today’s economy and which President Biden has promised to fight for.”
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers: “In fact, every dollar spent purchasing inflated and excessively costly RIN credits is a dollar not supporting productive refinery work and transitioning to clean energy. Furthermore, they skyrocketing costs of RINs – without key EPA reforms – could lead to the closure of these same independent refineries, thereby further lowering U.S. refining capacity and increasing the amount of petroleum fuels that must be imported from foreign refineries. This approach not only is poor energy policy that will have detrimental impacts on our economy, but also runs contrary to the core objectives of the RFS Program as envisioned by Congress.”
Sharon Watkins, Monroe Energy: “As a third-generation refinery worker and the first in my family to attend college, I’ve seen the life-changing opportunities our local refineries provide. I’m proud to say that my daughter is now a fourth generation working in refining as an engineer. For generations, tens of thousands of hard-working men and women in our region have spent their lives producing the critical transportation and home heating fuels we all rely upon. The Renewable Fuel Standard threatens to change this!”
Commentors also called attention to the eRINs portion of EPA’s proposed RVOs – which only serves to complicate an already-convoluted RINs compliance system.
International Union of Operation Engineers: “The new proposal also allows refiners to purchase credits from EV manufacturers (eRINs). The more electric vehicles a manufacturer sells, the more credits they will generate. Tesla stands to gain the most from this program because it has the most electric vehicles on the road. Although the goal of this program is to increase the number of electric vehicles and transition away from gas-powered vehicles, it is providing a generous tax subsidy to the anti-union, billionaire owner of the Tesla company. The eRINs proposal includes a provision, effective in January 2024, allowing for electricity generated through biomass to qualify for renewable fuel credits, if it’s used to power electric vehicles. However, we are not sure how the EPA plans to distinguish electricity made from cow manure and trash from that generated by coal or solar power.”