Grassley: EPA ‘screwed us’ with ethanol waivers

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

This story has been updated.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) harshly criticized the Trump administration’s latest round of waivers for the national ethanol standard, opining that EPA “screwed” Iowa by exempting certain fuel refineries from the policy.

“They screwed us when … they issued 31 waivers,” Grassley said on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” in a discussion that aired Friday.

“What’s really bad isn’t a waiver. It’s that it’s being granted to people that really aren’t hardship,” said Grassley, whose state dominates the national corn-based ethanol industry. He made sure to note that by comparison, there were “less than 10 waivers during all the Obama years, and we thought that was bad.”

A week prior, EPA announced 31 unidentified refineries had been granted “hardship” waivers to the annual renewable fuel standard, which requires fuel companies to blend certain amounts of ethanol and other biofuels into their traditional gasoline and diesel. The agency rejected six applications for waivers and promised to examine ways to expand the market for E85, a blend of 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline.

EPA defended its decisions after Grassley’s criticism, and said it follows the statutory process for waivers.

“EPA evaluates submissions to determine whether an exemption may be granted, based on information presented by the petitioning refinery and on the statutory and regulatory requirements for exemption,” said Corry Schiermeyer, an EPA spokeswoman.

The waivers were the latest development in an ongoing battle between refiners and the corn industry.

Both industries have strong allies in the Republican Party. Iowa is a swing state President Trump won in 2016 and could be key in 2020 as well. Farmers are also suffering from Trump’s ongoing trade war, which has reduced international demand for their products.

The pace of the exemptions has quickened since Trump took office, fueled in part by a court ruling saying EPA had previously used standards that were too strict to judge applications.

That — along with reporting that many of the refineries that have received exemptions are owned by large companies — has angered the ethanol industry and its allies.

“At a time when ethanol plants in the heartland are being mothballed and jobs are being lost, it is unfathomable and utterly reprehensible that the Trump administration would dole out more unwarranted waivers to prosperous petroleum refiners,” Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said of the waivers.

Refiners defend the move, noting the Trump administration is following the law with the waivers, and argue research shows they have not reduced demand for biofuels.

“We are pleased that EPA recognized the extreme hardship that the RFS program is having on small refineries,” said Chet Thompson, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers.

Reuters reported Trump personally intervened to stop EPA’s comprehensive review of the ethanol mandate program, resulting in the waiver announcement.

Grassley said he’ll continue to speak with Trump about the waivers and the program as a whole.

“We got to go back to the president, the same way that we have in the past,” he said on the Iowa program. “He always brings up ethanol so that I know that he knows about the ethanol issues, and he wants to be considered very pro-ethanol, and he wants to be considered very pro-farmer.”