“The question in this case is straightforward: Does this provision limit EPA to prolonging exemptions currently in place, or does it enable EPA to provide exemptions to refineries that lack them? The statute’s text and structure direct a clear answer: EPA cannot ‘extend’ an exemption that a refinery no longer has,” Barrett wrote.

The case involved amendments to the Clean Air Act made in 2005 and 2007 that require transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain specified amounts of certain renewable fuels. Small refineries were exempt from that requirement until 2011.

The law also allowed the EPA to extend the exemption for individual small refineries if complying would subject them to “disproportionate economic hardship.”

Another section of the law says that a small refinery can ask the EPA for an extension of the exemption “at any time.”

President Joe Biden’s administration had argued that to get an extension a refinery had to have maintained a continuous exemption since 2011. The administration said that followed from the word “extension.”

But three small refineries told the court that the phrase “at any time” meant they did not have to maintain a continuous hardship exemption to seek one.

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