House Democrats are attempting to drive a wedge between rural America and President Donald Trump by blasting the administration over its issuance of exemptions from requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Democrats used a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Tuesday to chide the Trump administration for issuing 85 waivers to oil companies over the last two years. 

The hearing focused on a bill proposed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Dusty Johnson R-S.D., bill, that would require the disclosure of information about the petitions received by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The chairman of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees EPA, said the administration isn’t interested in making the Renewable Fuel Standard program work. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. said it was illogical to think EPA Administrator Wheeler wasn’t granting the small refinery exemptions without orders from the president. 

 “The Trump administration has done its best to undermine the program at time when American farmers are already struggling,” Pallone said.

One of those farmers is Kelly Nieuwenhuis, of Primghar, Iowa, who told the subcommittee that he would like to see more transparency on how SREs are awarded and who receives them.

“Plain and simple: EPA’s use of small refinery exemptions under the RFS is crippling rural America,” said Nieuwenhuis, who is also the president of Siouxland Energy Cooperative, an ethanol producer in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Nieuwenhuis said the plant had to be shut down in mid-September due to the SREs, but it recently came back online a few weeks ago because the California Air Resources Board lowered their carbon score for Siouxland Energy by 10%. The carbon score is used to determine whether a plant's ethanol counts toward meeting CARB's limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He said the California action has allowed the plant to continue production at 50% capacity.

Nieuwenhuis and other biofuel advocates want EPA to disclose which refineries are granted exemptions. 

Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said that wouldn't require refineries to disclose financial or operational data to the public.

“(We want to know the) names of the refineries and their locations,” Cooper said. “Even EPA has said that is not confidential business information and should be publicly available.”

But Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Petrochemical Manufacturers, said releasing information about who is receiving SREs would jeopardize small refiners.

He said waiver applications require very sensitive financial data such as profitability, cash flow and balances, and loan data.

“Mandating that all of this information be publicly released, which is exactly what H.R. 3006 would do, would create a Hobson's choice for small refiners,” Thompson said.

Some Democrats on the subcommittee used the hearing as a way to criticize biofuel policy in general, saying it has disrupted forestry and wildlife habitats in their districts.

The United Steelworkers, the union that represents refinery workers, complained that it was not invited to testify at the hearing. In a letter to the committee, the union said the hearing was too limited in scope. 

“The failure to address a federally mandated system that is not working as intended and is rife with abuse, means stakeholders are left pushing past the margins and wanting more from legislators,” the letter said. 

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