Editorial: The buck stops where?

Source: By Editorial Board, The Daily Nonpareil • Posted: Monday, July 15, 2019

While Midwest farmers and Republican elected officials have been steadfastly supportive of President Donald Trump on most agriculture-related issues, there are some growing indications of rumblings of discontent.

Trump, who visited the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy ethanol plant in Council Bluffs last month, drew praise for his support for the Environmental Protection Agency to allow year-round sales of E15, a fuel blend that uses a higher percentage of ethanol.

As he has from the outset of his journey to the White House, Trump again told farmers he supported the ethanol industry, and in his push to have the EPA allow more sales of the higher ethanol blend, he’s kept those promises.

Barely a month after Trump’s visit to SIRE, the EPA released its annual rule for the level of ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply. The 15 billion gallon target for corn-based ethanol surprised and disappointed the industry because many expected the EPA to expand the requirement to offset exemptions given to many fuel refineries that have reduced demand for ethanol by an estimated 2.6 billion gallons since Trump took office.

The EPA also ignored a 2017 order from a federal appeals court to restore 500 million gallons exempted by the EPA from 2016.

Tom Vilsack, a former U.S. agriculture secretary and Iowa governor, told The Associated Press the mixed policies have caused confusion.

“What we need is a clear indication from the Trump administration consistent with the president’s promises that it is in support of the ethanol industry and biofuels industry,” said Vilsack, a Democrat. “You’re either with the industry or you’re not.”

The importance of the ethanol industry in the Midwest and elsewhere cannot be slighted. The ethanol industry consumes roughly 40% of the nation’s corn crop. Corn production has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, and a growing ethanol market is seen as necessary to avoid a steep reduction in demand for the grain.

Many Midwest GOP governors, including Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts, have pointed the finger of blame at EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, the former coal industry lobbyist Trump appointed to head the agency, rather than the president, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has been something of a lone voice in the wilderness.

Trump told The AP that some farmers think the EPA is breaking the president’s commitments to farmers to uphold the ethanol laws.

“I urge President Trump to compel EPA to reverse course and keep his word to the forgotten Americans who have faithfully stood with him,” Iowa’s senior senator said.

Asked if Trump is ultimately responsible, Grassley turned to a phrase displayed on the desk of President Harry Truman.

“I can’t help but answer yes to your question because Truman made it very clear the buck stops here,” he said.

Trump appointed Wheeler, and Trump should rein him in.