Ethanol dispute breaks out on Senate floor

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018

An ongoing dispute between Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) about ethanol mandates broke onto the Senate floor yesterday as lawmakers vented over an Agriculture Department nomination that’s in limbo over the issue.

Cruz, who is seeking changes to an aspect of the renewable fuel standard, said ethanol lobbyists who won’t negotiate — rather than his legislative hold on the nomination — are preventing Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey from being confirmed for a federal post.

Northey is President Trump’s choice for undersecretary of Agriculture for farm production and conservation. That would be a change of title for the position, from undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

“They are unwilling to discuss anything with anybody,” Cruz said during a nearly hourlong back-and-forth with Grassley and other senators, after blocking Grassley’s effort to bring the nomination to the floor.

Grassley responded that he has tried to advance ideas to break the stalemate, but those proposals haven’t changed Cruz’s mind.

And Grassley dubbed as a “manufactured and baseless rumor” Cruz’s contention that high prices for renewable fuel credits put a Philadelphia refinery in bankruptcy, although the company, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, cited the credits as the main cause in its bankruptcy court filing.

Other senators joined in on Grassley’s side, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Agriculture Committee.

“We need to fill this position,” Stabenow said. “It’s long overdue.”

Cruz said he hopes the White House and U.S. EPA clear the way for him to drop his objection by handling the ethanol issue administratively.

If Northey chooses to run for another term as Iowa agriculture secretary, the filing deadline is March 16 and the election is in November. Grassley said he’ll stick by Northey as long as the nominee wants.