Biofuel, farm groups scramble to discern impact of Trump win

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2016

Yesterday’s big wins for Republicans put environmental groups and bioenergy advocates on the defensive as they sized up the potential impact on agriculture policies.

From ethanol mandates to farmland conservation, programs shaped by Democrats in recent years suddenly appeared subject to change as Donald Trump’s message of shaking up the government won on Election Day.

“It’s hard to imagine how a Trump administration could give farmers more license to pollute than they already have,” said Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the Environmental Working Group, which has pressed for more regulation of pollution from large livestock farms.

Trump’s campaign didn’t spell out agriculture priorities in great detail, but he was highly critical of U.S. EPA for its “Waters of the U.S.” regulations under the Clean Water Act, among other enforcement policies, and he promised to put a farmer in charge of the agency.

Stakeholders in agriculture policy said they are watching for a Trump administration to reduce the role of EPA in agriculture and for a Republican-led Congress to craft the next five-year farm bill over the next two years and send it to the Republican president for signature — possibly with cuts to conservation and other programs.

“We’re not sure how extreme the change will be,” said Reana Kovalcik, a spokeswoman for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Like other groups, the NSAC wasn’t expecting a Trump victory. Representatives of several groups said they needed time to consider what the upset victory will mean.

The farm bill dictates the safety net for farmers as well as programs that encourage farmers to use conservation measures, some of which Republicans could target for cuts. That’s especially likely if the Republican-led Senate uses the budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to advance on a simple majority, said Greg Fogel, senior policy analyst at the NSAC.

“If that happens, we’re on the defensive,” Fogel said.

On the other hand, Faber at the Environmental Working Group said, Trump campaigned in part on promises to make farmers a priority and to pursue a safety net targeted at those most in need rather than the biggest farms. If he reins in farm subsidies as conservative groups urge, that would match with the EWG’s agenda, Faber said.

Trump’s message on biofuels has been somewhat less clear. His campaign’s agriculture advisory committee included members opposed to the federal renewable fuel standard, and the campaign briefly said it would look to revise the renewable fuel standard, before stepping back and saying Trump supports mandating renewable fuel volumes set by Congress.

The Renewable Fuels Association, representing ethanol companies, said today that it was counting on Trump to stick with the supportive position.

“We are confident Mr. Trump will continue to support the expanded production and use of fuel ethanol. Moreover, the president-elect is committed to removing regulatory barriers that impede growth,” said the group’s CEO, Bob Dinneen, in a statement.

How Trump’s skepticism about EPA overall — and his idea to dismantle it as an enforcement agency — would affect renewable fuel programs remains to be seen. Neither the RFA nor Growth Energy, which represents corn ethanol companies, would comment on that aspect of a Trump administration.

“We’re kind of assessing at this point,” said Michael Frohlich, a spokesman at Growth Energy. “We’re just looking forward to working with the transition.”