Donald Trump extends a record of broken promises to Iowa farmers

Source: By Tom Vilsack, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Farmers and workers deserve much better than a back-door deal made with money appropriated to benefit rural people and places being used to placate the oil industry.

Donald Trump’s record of broken promises to Iowa farmers continues to unfold last week. Iowa corn and soybean farmers, along with their downstream customers in the ethanol and biodiesel industries, experienced a momentary high as the president rejected a handful of gap year waivers requested by refineries that would have exempted them from the blending requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.

After greatly expanding the use of these waivers in his first 3½ years in office, it was welcome news that he signaled that the most brazen attempts to weaken the RFS would be denied. The news does not change the fact that the more than 80 waivers President Trump and the Environmental Protection Agency have already granted to the biggest names in global oil and gas production eliminated more than 4 billion gallons in ethanol and biodiesel demand. Or that a billion bushels of corn didn’t get processed into ethanol, further depressing the prices that our farmers receive. Or that dozens of ethanol plants shut down or limited production, resulting in workers at 150 ethanol plants working less or not at all. This news also did not address the remaining waiver requests for 2019 and 2020 which, if granted after the election, would continue to destroy additional demand for ethanol and biodiesel made right here in Iowa.

The good feeling at the announcement that the gap waivers would not be granted did not last long. Just two days after EPA announced it was denying 54 gap year waivers, reports broke that Trump was planning to take at least $300 million of taxpayer dollars from the United States Department of Agriculture to pay off the Big Oil refineries that didn’t get the waivers they requested.

This is unconscionable. This amounts to adding insult to injury. Our biofuels producers have been hit hard by the decrease in demand for liquid fuel as a result of the poorly handled pandemic. When ethanol and biodiesel producers asked for assistance from coronavirus relief funds, no help was forthcoming. However, when it comes to aiding the oil industry, there is no problem finding at least $300 million in assistance.

Couldn’t $300 million of taxpayer funds be better invested in helping farmers hurt by the derecho, drought, or the trade war, in assisting rural communities devastated by the pandemic, in helping feed struggling and low-income rural families, in fixing crumbling infrastructure or expanding rural broadband?

Farmers and workers depend upon the government keeping faith with them and with the Renewable Fuel Standard. They deserve much better than a back-door deal made with money appropriated to benefit rural people and places being used to placate the oil industry.

When it comes to the RFS, the president must choose whose side he is on. The president is either with the farmers and the renewable fuel industry or with the oil industry. You cannot be with both. Granting 4 billion gallons in waivers and planning to use at least $300 million of taxpayer resources to help the oil industry strongly suggests Trump has made his choice.

Tom Vilsack served as the 40th governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007, and as the 30th U.S. secretary of agriculture, under President Barack Obama, from 2009 to 2017. This essay reflects Vilsack’s personal views, not those of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, where he is president and CEO.