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Is Carl Icahn Getting the Last Laugh?

By Alan Zibel

If at first you don’t get a regulatory rollback, try, try again. That appears to be the reality in Donald Trump’s Washington.

After pushing unsuccessfully for regulatory changes that would benefit his oil refining business, billionaire Carl Icahn appears to have found a new way to accomplish the same goal.

At the start of the Trump administration, Icahn pushed to save his company $200 million per year by shifting responsibility for blending ethanol and biodiesel to wholesale gasoline distributors, rather than oil refiners like Icahn’s CVR Energy. A close Trump friend, Icahn served for several months as a special regulatory adviser to President Donald Trump, but stepped down amind intense scrutiny of Icahn’s effort to influence regulations.

Icahn appeared to have lost this battle and faces a federal probe into his efforts to influence energy policy.  But a new report suggests that Icahn may have found another way to win the larger war. According to Reuters, the EPA has granted a waiver worth tens of millions to an Oklahoma oil refinery controlled by Icahn. The EPA gave Icahn’s refinery a hardship waiver, according to Reuters, even though Icahn’s two refineries —  Coffeyville in Kansas and Wynnewood in Oklahoma —  posted a combined gross profit of $286 million in 2017 and $115 million in the first three months of 2018.

Reporting suggests that the EPA is granting more of these waivers than ever before, but the government officially keeps waiver recipients secret. Because the granting of waivers affects the markets, they should be public, and Congress should investigate the increased number of waivers the EPA is issuing.

CVR Energy is required to purchase credits to comply with federal renewable fuels mandate enacted under President George W. Bush  In his role as special adviser to Trump on regulations, Icahn had an official public platform to push for changes to this mandate and associated program – and stands to benefit from his bet against prices for biofuel credits.

Disturbed by this blatant conflict of interest, Public Citizen last year called on Congress to investigate whether Icahn, Icahn Enterprises or CVR Energy violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act in pushing Trump to change the structure of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard in a way that would be profitable for Icahn.

For the past year, Icahn has counting on his political influence to persuade the Trump administration to change ethanol rules – while making tens of millions in profits. He appears to finally have succeeded.