Ethanol advocates seek policy reset in Pruitt’s wake

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ethanol advocates say Scott Pruitt’s resignation as EPA administrator gives them a second chance at biofuel-friendly policies with the Trump administration.

“It’s a chance to restart a conversation,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, which came to see Pruitt as a roadblock on renewable fuels. “I just hope we can hit the reset button and have a more reasonable discussion.”

Boosters welcomed the news that Pruitt would be gone, effective today, to be replaced on an interim basis by Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler — who was once a consultant for Growth Energy, the ethanol industry group.

The first item of business, they said, would be to press Wheeler to stop granting “hardship” waivers of renewable fuel requirements to small refiners.

Pruitt had approved of the growing number of waivers, saying the renewable fuel standard required EPA to grant them when refiners showed economic harm (E&E Daily, June 21).

That was one of a handful of policies Pruitt pursued, or appeared to pursue, that riled ethanol advocates, Shaw told E&E News.

Others included switching responsibility for biofuel requirements from refiners to fuel blenders and allowing exported fuel to count toward renewable fuel credits — a proposal that could have driven down prices for the credits, formally called Renewable Identification Numbers, Shaw said.

“It almost seemed like Pruitt had a personal mission to undermine the RFS and was only reined in at the last minute by President Trump,” said Shaw.

Even though EPA didn’t shut out ethanol advocates, Shaw said, “we talked and could get meetings, and nothing would happen.”

Pruitt’s less-than-enthusiastic support for ethanol was no surprise to the industry, given his background in Oklahoma, an oil state.

But RFS supporters often cite Trump’s promises on the campaign trail and since his election to support farmers and the renewable fuels they help produce. To them, Pruitt’s approach on ethanol seemed to contradict the president — a contention the petroleum industry disputes.

Ethanol supporters in Congress, too, said they are looking forward to a potentially more friendly audience in Wheeler.

Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) in a statement called Pruitt’s departure “long overdue” and said, “It is my hope that Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will uphold the president’s commitment to the RFS and get the EPA back on track.”

The CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, Bob Dinneen, suggested Pruitt’s demise may have been connected to his slow approach to expanding availability of higher-ethanol fuel — the industry’s top policy goal.

Dinneen said, in contrast, Wheeler’s “long career focusing on policies that recognize economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive is not undermined by an unmistakable anti-ethanol, anti-farmer bias.”

Petroleum industry sources and others opposed to ethanol mandates dismissed the idea that Pruitt’s resignation had anything to do with the politics of ethanol or would change the administration’s approach.

The Fueling American Jobs Coalition, representing oil refiners, small retailers and others opposed to the RFS, said “nothing could be further from the truth” behind Pruitt’s departure. The small refiner exemptions don’t hurt the biofuel industry and are a legal requirement, the coalition said.

“The President himself has agreed that some reform of the RFS is sensible and even tasked the Administrator to further develop the President’s own concept, and no harm to biofuels has ever been demonstrated regarding SREs,” the coalition said. “Under the Clean Air Act and at the direction of the courts, SREs must be granted if disproportionate economic impact is demonstrated.”

The change atop EPA probably won’t end the stalemate that has made biofuel policy so dicey, said Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who headed Trump’s transition team at the Department of Energy.

“It doesn’t matter who is running EPA,” McKenna said. “The fundamentals remain the same.”