Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited with government officials and agribusiness leaders during a closed-door session at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Monday, pledging to listen to their concerns about a wide variety of issues.
In a press briefing after the session, he pledged to provide more transparency in decision making and more regulatory certainty from the federal agency he has been charged with leading after former administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation.
Wheeler said he recognizes the importance of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to the entire country, as well as the Iowans who asked him to provide year-round access to E15. The agency would need to issue a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver to allow for E15 sales during the summer months, something Wheeler says the agency is examining.
"The Trump administration wants to move forward with implementing the RFS within the spirit and administration of the law," Wheeler said.
The administrator offered few specifics about the RVP waivers, but did note that some changes may need to be made before farmers head to the fields in 2019.
“I can’t tell you the timeline, we are mindful of needing to have a decision on that before the growing season next year,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been meeting with different groups around the country and different associations that represent the ethanol people, the refineries, trying to figure out what we can do to provide more certainty around the RFS program,” he told members of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and others during the private meeting.
In a letter to Wheeler last month, Iowa’s congressional delegation expressed concern about "demand destruction of 2.25 billion gallons due to the unprecedented number of small refinery 'hardship' waivers granted in 2016 and 2017." Ethanol advocates have asked him to reallocate the millions of gallons that were lost toward the 15 billion gallon goal, but energy sector interests dispute the demand destruction characterization.
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Wheeler also said proposed changes to the Waters of the U.S. rule, which determines how wetlands and navigable waterways are defined, should be coming within the next 60 days "so you don't have to hire attorneys and consultants" to implement the regulation.
“We certainly encourage everybody to submit comments during the notice of comment process,” added Wheeler.
Views on the meeting were mixed. Wayne Humphreys, a diversified farmer and member of the Iowa Corn Grower’s Promotion board from Southeast Iowa, said Wheeler did little to improve morale by offering “no concrete evidence of any more transparency than we already have with the RFS.”
Tom Brooks, General Manager and COO for Western Dubuque Biodiesel and chairman of the National Biodiesel Board said he didn’t believe Wheeler truly understands the importance and workings of the RFS and emphasized to the him that it was not just affecting corn producers.
“Everybody thinks the RFS is just ethanol… There are 4 pots, and everybody seems to be concerned about one,” Brooks said. “This guy is running a program, and he’s involved in it; I don’t know that he fully understands the mechanics of how markets are made in biodiesel and ethanol."
Iowa Cattleman and diversified row crop farmer Bill Couser was pleased that Wheeler had come to Iowa to listen. Agriculture has finally worked hard enough “to have a seat at the table; and we finally do, and we’re no longer on the menu,” Couser added.
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