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Trump 'caved' on biofuel program and 'failed to drain the swamp,' says CEO of Carl Icahn-controlled oil refiner

    • The Renewable Fuel Standard requires refiners to blend renewable biofuels into gasoline and diesel.
    • The EPA, which overseas the Renewable Fuel Standard, last month said it would not pursue several changes to the program that would benefit CVR Energy and other small refiners.
    Donald Trump
    Mike Segar | Reuters
    Donald Trump

    The chief executive of an oil refiner controlled by Carl Icahn on Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of caving to corn-state legislators in failing to overhaul a federal biofuel program.

    Jack Lipinski, CEO of CVR Energy and its limited partnership CVR Refining, said Trump also had failed to drain the swamp of special interest influence in government. Lipinski also suggested during a conference call with analysts that Trump would pay a price at the polls for conceding to special interests.

    Icahn, formerly a special adviser to Trump on regulations, had sought changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program that requires fuel refiners to blend renewable biofuels like corn-based ethanol into gasoline and diesel. Those changes would have benefited CVR Energy, in which Icahn Associates holds an 82-percent stake.

    "What I cannot understand is how the Trump administration capitulated to the senators from Iowa" -Jack Lipinski, CVR Energy CEO

    The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. bureau that overseas the Renewable Fuel Standard, last month said it would not pursue several changes to the program that would ease financial burdens for CVR Energy and other small refiners.

    "Unfortunately legislators closely tied to the biofuel lobby sabotaged EPA's efforts by saying they would hold back EPA nominees until they got their way," Lipinski said during CVR Refining's third-quarter earnings conference call. He was referring to a bipartisan effort to block changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard.

    He said he was "surprised that the Trump administration caved and failed to drain the swamp as promised."

    The White House did not immediately return CNBC's request for comment. The EPA declined an offer to respond.

    The changes were opposed by lawmakers from big farm states, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA.

    "President Trump pledged to support biofuels during his campaign," Sen. Grassley told CNBC in an email. "A strong [Renewable Fuel Standard] is consistent with that pledge and President Trump should be applauded for keeping his word to the country."

    Lipinski said he could not understand "how the Trump administration capitulated to the senators from Iowa."

    He noted that the top two corn producing red states, Iowa and Nebraska, have just 11 electoral votes. Meanwhile, two of the most disadvantaged refiners under the program are headquartered in Pennsylvania, he said. Lipinski did not specify which companies he meant, but refiners like Philadelphia Energy Solutions and Delta Air Lines subsidiary Monroe Energy are based in Pennsylvania.

    "If anybody in the White House can do math, Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes," he said.

    Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners who blend biofuels like ethanol into gasoline generate credits called Renewable Identification Numbers, known as RINs. Smaller refiners like CVR that do not blend ethanol must buy those RINs in order to meet their obligation under the program.

    Icahn had lobbied for the EPA to shift the obligation to buy credits away from refiners and onto fuel blenders. Analysts told CNBC that CVR Refining appeared to be putting off buying RINs on the view that prices would fall as policy changed. Icahn himself suggested the company was not buying RINs.

    Icahn's position as the dominant investor in CVR Energy and his unofficial role as an advisor to Trump on regulations drew conflict of interest allegations. Icahn, who argued he was acting in the interest of American energy security, stepped down from the advisory role in August.

    Lipinski said on Wednesday that CVR has been buying RINs and reports to the contrary are inaccurate.

    RIN prices fell earlier this year on expectations the policy would change, but rallied back near $1 as those hopes faded. Prices for so-called D6 ethanol RINs were trading around 96 cents to 97 cents on Wednesday, according to Tom Kloza at Oil Price Information Service.

    On Tuesday, CVR Refining estimated its RINs expense at $235 million to $265 million in 2017. Its total uncommitted biofuel blending cost at the end of the quarter was $127 million, CVR Chief Financial Officer Susan Ball said.

    While Lipinski argued that cost is "egregious," he said healthy profit margins — the result of a wide spread between crude oil and fuel costs — more than offset CVR's RIN cost.

    Lipinski, a long-time critic of the Renewable Fuel Standard, will retire at the end of the year.