Farmers and senators alike say President Donald Trump has little to gain and a lot to lose if he appeals the recent 10th Circuit opinion that has been widely praised by the ag and biofuels industry.
The ruling struck down three small refinery exemptions (SREs) from the Renewable Fuel Standard and has the potential to impact dozens more if applied nationally, and interested parties are stepping up their rhetoric to try and stop a planned appeal of the case by the Trump administration.
“Farmers feel like they’re being supported by the president, but the president has an opportunity here to prove that support,” Iowa farmer Dave Walton told reporters Wednesday. He specifically mentioned the support many in rural America have offered the Trump administration as it sought to negotiate trade deals with partners who sometimes issued retaliatory tariffs against U.S. ag products during those talks.
“To have the White House thinking of an appeal to the court ruling on SREs is kind of a kick in the teeth to the farmers that have been patient for the last two years,” Walton said. “I think farmers are watching, they know the issues pretty well, and if this comes down to farmers versus oil companies, farmers are going to remember that in November.”
Walton’s comments came on a call with reporters where several other farmers and ethanol producers sounded off on the issue and encouraged Trump not to follow through on plans to appeal the ruling. They said the language in the ruling and the unanimous decision from the three-judge panel will be hard to overturn.
“The likelihood of them actually getting a win in this case or overturning the ruling is slim to none, so all it does is delay, and continued delays continue to hurt … the certainty in the marketplace,” National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Ross said on the call. “It’s causing a problem and, I think, confidence to wane a little bit in farm country.”
On Monday, the administration was granted an extension of a filing deadline, giving it until March 24 to request an appeal.
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed the ruling at the Commodity Classic in February, saying he expected the case to lead to a significant drop in waivers granted to small refineries. At the time, the administration was reportedly leaning toward applying the verdict nationwide, a decision that is said to have been changed after intervention from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, among others.
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The situation also was a sticking point during a nomination hearing Wednesday that included consideration of Doug Benevento to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator.
“These illegal SRE’s caused over 4 billion gallons of demand destruction for ethanol and biodiesel, and it shut down numerous plants across the heartland, depressing commodity values at an already uncertain time for my farmers and my producers,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said.
She pressed Benevento for an EPA commitment not to issue any exemptions while the Trump administration decides whether to ask the 10th Circuit to rehear the case. Ernst said 23 waiver requests are pending
The nominee, however, said it would be better if he got back to Ernst “with a response on how we’re going to be managing the program.”
Benevento tried to steer clear of engaging on the issue of the 10th Circuit ruling that the administration is considering appealing.
When questioned by Ernst about the reach of the decision, Benevento said, “It is a 10th Circuit decision and it is binding,” but when asked after the hearing whether the ruling was effective only in the 10th Circuit or nationwide, he referred Agri-Pulse to EPA’s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department.
When Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., brought up the same issue, Benevento said he has “not been involved in this decision-making process” or in “day-to-day conversations.”
“I can’t shed any light on this,” he told Duckworth.
The waivers had their supporters at the hearing, including Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a staunch defender of the oil industry, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V. Benevento told Inhofe that EPA is working to ensure that “whatever direction we move forward, it’s equitable to everybody.” He pledged to Capito he would look into why a refinery in West Virginia has not received a waiver.
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