US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in cases involving Renewable Fuel Standards Program and noncitizen re-entry
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US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in cases involving Renewable Fuel Standards Program and noncitizen re-entry

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining, LLC v Renewable Fuels Association, a case regarding exemptions for small refineries from the Renewable Fuel Standards Program, and United States v Palomar-Santiago, which involves immigration law and noncitizen re-entry.

HollyFrontier concerns the Clean Air Act‘s biofuels mandate to replace crude oil with renewable fuels. The mandate allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to temporarily extend exemptions to small refineries under § 7545(o)(9)(A)(ii)(II) if compliance with the mandate would cause undue economic hardship. The results of this case could determine the economic viability of small refineries nationwide, as well as their collective environmental impact.

Three small refineries, collectively called HollyFrontier, applied and received extensions from the EPA. A collection of renewable fuel producers, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), challenged the orders in the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The RFA was granted standing when it demonstrated that the EPA’s actions had caused the producers of renewable fuel economic injury. The court ruled that the EPA had exceeded its authority in granting the extension. HollyFrontier petitioned the Supreme Court for review.

The question posed by the court asks if a “small refinery need[s] to receive uninterrupted, continuous hardship exemptions for every year” since the Clean Air Act was passed in 2011. HollyFrontier argues that an extension should be granted to any fuel producer that experiences economic hardship at any time; the RFA counters that a lack of continuity from a previously enjoyed exemption should disqualify that producer from receiving a new exemption order. An extension of an exemption, the RFA argues, would also affirm continuity within the act with its mandate to limit emissions.

HollyFrontier argues that the EPA should be allowed deferential treatment in interpreting legislation as established in Chevron USA Inc. v Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc. HollyFrontier maintains that ambiguities in the legislation regarding the granting of an exemption were settled in 2014 when the EPA decided to reject the continuity requirement because of the potential to disqualify some small refineries. The RFA claims that this argument has no merit, as an agency’s determination only has deference when Congress has granted it.

Palomar revolves around Palomar-Santiago, a Mexican national who was deported in 1998 due to what was, at the time, a crime of violence under federal law and therefore an aggravated felony that results in deportation under Title 8. That felony has since been declared not a crime of violence by the US Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit.

Palomar-Santiago was living in the US without authorization in 2017 when he was indicted for illegally reentering the country after his deportation. He sought to dismiss the indictment under Title 8 § 1326(d), which allows a district court to dismiss an indictment if the defendant proves that the crime was mis-categorized and that they were wrongfully removed. The district court found that Palomar-Santiago met this burden; the finding was affirmed upon appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

The US argues showing the removal was “fundamentally unfair” is not sufficient to satisfy § 1326(d). Its argument states that the provision implies all criteria need to be met before an exemption is granted, that a misapplication of a prior conviction satisfies the criteria in full is a mistake of law. Palomar-Santiago argues that the satisfaction of the final requirement provides that the remaining requirements are as well, further arguing procedural rules should not have such a substantial effect on a person’s constitutional rights. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in defense of Palomar-Santiago, contends that using an administrative order as a pre-requisite for conviction, while simultaneously making it difficult to challenge said order, results in a miscarriage of justice.