Average Joe SCOTUS: HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining LLC v. Renewable Fuels Association

In it’s desire to combat climate change and shit, congress passed the Energy Policy Act in 2005, which added some new guidelines to the Clean Air Act. The idea was to incentivize companies to move from fossil fuels to renewables and shit.

One of the measures was to push oil and gas refineries to use blends, such as methanols at increasing levels, so it’s more plant based fuel, and less petroleum based fuel.

Within this legislation, they allowed for smaller refineries to have exemptions if complying with their rules, would cause serious problems for them, disproportionate to the impact it might have on larger companies, which can afford to make such changes easier.

So the question the court is being asked, does this law indicate that you have to have a continuous string of hardships, year after year, to keep qualifying for this extension? Or is it that once you jump that hurdle, and are deemed able to comply, are you barred from asking for an extension the following year.

As SCOTUS Blog points out, this hinges on the definition of the word extension. Because the petitioner is saying, they can apply for an extension at any time, but the respondent is saying, “Hey look, how can you extend something that isn’t currently happening?”

During oral arguments, Justice Kagan brought up a compelling argument for the petitioner:

Elena Kagan

Good morning, Mr. Keisler.

In thinking about the ordinary meaning of this word, “extension,” I guess I’m wondering if you would comment on this hypothetical. Suppose that I rented an apartment five years ago and I rented it for a year, and then I decided to give it up, and five years later I’m now really tired of where I’m living now and I want to move back, and I call the landlord and say: I’d like an extension of my lease.

What would the landlord say?

Peter D. Keisler

I think the landlord would scratch her head and think that’s a very strange context in which to be using the word “extension.” I agree with that. And that, I think, is like the government’s examples of the hotel guests or the people parking their cars.

I think those may have a different connotation in part because they involve rights, the physical occupation, and because you go away and you then come back, and we think of that as discontinuous. And that’s why we think the much more apt context here is how Congress has used the word in the context of government benefits and programs that existed, lapsed, and resumed.

In a 6:3 decision, and weirdly sexually divided, where Barrett, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented, SCOTUS ruled in favor of HollyFrontier. That they can indeed file for extension, even if there was a time when they didn’t need said exception. Since the law didn’t include words like “successive” or “consecutive” it kinda leaves the door open that they don’t need to be year after year. A simple hardship can trigger an exception.

Hear oral arguments or read about the case here.


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