President Donald Trump has apparently rejected a decision-making memo that was expected to deliver a long-awaited, yet controversial, compromise: Approval for higher ethanol blends, E15, throughout the summer months, while also giving the oil industry the ability to use exported biofuels to generate compliance credits – Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs.
On Tuesday evening, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both posted on their respective Twitter accounts that Trump had rejected what they saw as a troubling deal for the biofuel sector. Ernst said Trump assured her he "won't sign a deal that's bad for farmers." Grassley said Trump "helped farmers by rejecting (a) bad ethanol deal."
But throughout the day, both of Iowa’s senators were speculating about the worst possible outcome and blaming EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for most of their angst. Based on their last meeting at the White House with Sen. Ted Cruz, Pruitt and others, they were assured that the president wanted to approve E15 year-round, but there was also a hint that the oil industry would win some concessions. Staff members have been working for weeks to clarify a path forward.
Asked about his most recent White House meeting on this issue, Grassley said there was an expectation “that we’d have E15 twelve months out of the year and we would not have RINs caps. But as we left the meeting, there was this unknown that involves export RINs. It involves something to do with the misuse of the hardship waiver. And whether or not waivers – ethanol that was waived would be reallocated somewhere else.”
Speaking to reporters at separate events on Tuesday, Grassley and Ernst both offered sharp criticism of Pruitt’s ethical and job performance, saying he is breaking Trump’s campaign promises and making farmers nervous with his actions on the nation’s biofuel mandate.
“I am hopeful that the president will just recognize that Mr. Pruitt is breaking our president’s promises to farmers,” Ernst said Tuesday at the Platts Energy Podium in Washington. “At some point he will say, ‘It’s time for you to go.’ But that’s up to the president to make that call.”
Ernst added that she thinks Pruitt “is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet.”
Earlier in the morning, Grassley told reporters, that if expectations were to come true, he thought Pruitt “has betrayed the president.”
“This is a case where the president is being ill-served by political appointees that aren’t carrying out his agenda,” Grassley added. He said the oil industry is “having a big victory through collusion between senators from oil states and from the bureaucracy that is probably anti-ethanol and, particularly, new people within that EPA bureaucracy that’s anti-ethanol and pro-big oil.”
Aside from Pruitt’s oversight of the RFS, Ernst also pointed to his “other transgressions” – a list which on Tuesday grew to include an effort to make his wife a Chic-fil-A franchisee – as evidence he “misuses, basically, his office.”
The political clout of Iowa’s two senators is evident in this case for a number of reasons. Not only is Iowa the top state in renewable fuel production and an anchor of the nation’s Corn Belt, but its first-in-the-nation presidential caucus gives the state an outsized influence in picking the next president. As such, President Trump has good reason to want to keep Ernst, Grassley and other Iowans happy going into his 2020 reelection bid. But Ernst says that is becoming more and more difficult so long as a major Trump 2016 campaign commitment remains in flux.
“Right now, support is wavering in Iowa,” she said. “People are really worried.”
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