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U.S. EPA to hand over biofuel exemption documents to GAO probe

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Raw corn is shown as it is unloaded for processing at the Lincolnway Energy plant in the town of Nevada, Iowa, December 6, 2007. The company, one of a growing number across Iowa and the United States, converts corn to ethanol fuel to be used in flexible-fuelled vehicles as an alternative energy source to oil. The business operates around the clock seven days a week, processing approximately 50,000 bushels (1.27 tonnes) of corn daily, and creating 150,000 gallons (567,752 litres) of ethanol per day. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is handing over to the Government Accountability Office information on oil refiners that petitioned for exemptions to biofuel blending mandates, in an effort to help the government watchdog investigate the exemption program.

The move shows the Biden administration's willingness to help scrutinize the so-called small refinery exemption program, which had expanded dramatically during former President Donald Trump's term.

The disclosed confidential information will include all documents, information and data related to small refinery exemption petitions received by the EPA from the program since its inception, according to a notice on Wednesday in the Federal Register.

Under U.S. law, oil refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation's fuel pool, or buy credits from those that do. Refiners can apply for exemptions if they can prove the requirements would do them financial harm.

The exemptions have sparked controversy between oil and corn groups. Corn and biofuel groups say that the exemptions hurt demand for their fuel, while oil refiners reject that claim and say the exemptions are necessary to keep small refiners in business.

GAO announced in January 2020 that it would review the EPA's approval of small refinery exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard, including viability scores given to the applications by the Energy Department, which helps advise EPA on the program.

GAO launched the investigation after a request to do so from Democratic and Republican representatives from corn-growing states such as Illinois, Iowa and other states.

The Renewable Fuels Association, a biofuel trade group, cheered the news.

"We applaud the new leadership at EPA for providing the requested information to GAO, and we thank Administrator (Michael) Regan for taking another important step toward restoring the integrity of the RFS program," said RFA President Geoff Cooper.

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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