New York | Reuters — Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to weigh into a debate over a controversial U.S. biofuels program with a proposal that would back the position of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, one of his wealthiest backers.
In a factsheet on economic policy, the Trump campaign slammed a system of buying and selling biofuel blending credits that it said was bankrupting smaller oil refiners.
The system is a central part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal program that requires fuel sold in the U.S. to contain a minimum volume of biofuels, such as ethanol.
The comments were later removed from the Trump campaign website. A Trump spokesman said an incorrect version of the factsheet was temporarily placed online. He said Trump remains committed to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
It was unclear whether the comments reflected a changed stance from Trump on the country’s more than decade-old RFS program, for which he has previously voiced support.
But they echoed the position of Icahn, who recently called on federal regulators to level the playing field in the credits system to favour independent refiners like CVR Energy, in which Icahn is the majority shareholder.
Icahn’s office did not return an email and call when asked to comment.
“These regulations will give Big Oil an oligopoly by destroying the small to mid-size refineries,” the factsheet on Trump’s economic policies said.
“These requirements have turned out to be impossible to meet and are bankrupting many of the small and midsize refineries in this country,” it added.
The comments underscored a growing schism within the oil sector, pitting large oil companies against independent oil refiners. It also touches on a debate between the interests of Big Oil and Big Corn, which strongly backs the mandated use of ethanol in fuels and the credit system to make it work.
The RFS has hurt independent refiners, who do not always have the ability to mix biofuels into their gasoline and diesel before they send it to gas stations. To sell their gasoline without the required biofuel content, they have to buy credits from oil companies that have blended the fuels.
Those credits have cost the companies billions of dollars, and 2016 looks set to be the most expensive on record to buy the credits, known as RINs.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions said last week that it plans to slash benefits and reduce staff, citing the high cost of buying RINs as one of the principal reasons it needed to make the cuts.
Independent refiners are pressing environmental regulators for changes to the program that could increase the amount of credits the larger companies need, industry sources have said.
For its part, Big Oil favours a repeal of the whole program, rather than a tweak that may land it with increased costs. Biofuels advocates also are against a change to the program.
— Chris Prentice is a Reuters reporter covering the biofuel sector from New York. Additional reporting for Reuters by Emily Stephenson and Jennifer Ablan.