EPA chief’s support for renewable fuels is a ‘huge victory,’ Joni Ernst says

Source: By Joseph Morton, Omaha World-Herald • Posted: Monday, October 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — Iowa and Nebraska politicians on Friday hailed as a triumph Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s embrace of policies favorable to domestic production of ethanol and other renewable fuels.

“This is a huge victory for our farmers and for manufacturers, and to get this assurance in writing was key,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said during a conference call with reporters.

As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Ernst had blocked a key EPA nominee over concerns about the agency’s approach to renewable fuels.

Late Thursday, Pruitt sent a letter making a laundry list of commitments to support renewable fuels. Now Ernst says she will support advancing the nomination as early as next week.

Renewable fuels advocates had been nervous about a slew of potential policy changes at the EPA.

The most recent headline-making dispute revolved around the possibility of the EPA lowering proposed volume levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard, particularly for biodiesel. That standard is closely watched in Iowa and Nebraska, the nation’s No. 1 and 2 producers of ethanol.

Pruitt committed in the letter that those volumes will be finalized by the end of next month at or above the levels proposed earlier this year.

On another front, oil and gas interests have pushed to shift the burden of meeting RFS requirements from refiners and importers to blenders.

In his letter, Pruitt stated that such a shift would not be appropriate. He also addressed a proposal to allow exported fuel to count toward domestic requirements: “EPA has not taken any formal action to propose this idea, nor will EPA pursue regulations.”

He also pledged to work with Congress on proposals to allow E15, a blend with 15 percent alcohol, to be sold year-round.

“I reiterate my commitment to you and your constituents to act consistent with the text and spirit of the RFS,” Pruitt wrote.

The letter was a striking demonstration of the political muscle flexed by Iowa and other Midwestern grain states.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, had spoken about the issue with Pruitt and President Donald Trump. The White House told the EPA to stand by renewable fuels, according to Bloomberg News.

Reynolds’ office sent around news clippings Friday about Pruitt’s letter with the note that “many are calling the news a big win for Gov. Reynolds’ administration.”

All four senators from Iowa and Nebraska, all Republicans, met with Pruitt on Capitol Hill this week over the RFS issue.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., also serves on the committee that oversees the EPA and has sponsored legislation on the E15 issue.

“Administrator Pruitt’s letter is a step in the right direction with a stated commitment to stand up for rural America as he works to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Fischer said in a press release.

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw thanked the Iowa senators and Reynolds for working on the issue and praised Pruitt for abandoning a shift in the RFS “point of obligation” and allowing exported ethanol to count toward the domestic requirements.

“However, simply not making further cuts to proposed levels that were already too low is not enough,” Shaw said in a press release. “To live up to the letter and spirit of the RFS in the final rule, the EPA must increase levels for biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol from what was proposed in July.”