Grassley to ramp up pressure after ruling on waivers

Source: By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2020

An already-intense lobbying fight over federal biofuel blending requirements looks poised to heat up even more in the next two weeks, if remarks by Sen. Chuck Grassley yesterday are any indication.

Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate’s most outspoken advocate for ethanol and other biofuels, told reporters he’ll use the next two weeks to turn up pressure on the Trump administration not to appeal a January court ruling that favored the ethanol industry.

“In those next two weeks, I along with Sen. [Joni] Ernst [R-Iowa] will continue to urge the EPA and the [Justice Department] to follow the law that has been set by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Grassley said in a conference call with agriculture reporters.

While corn is a major commodity in Iowa, it’s also a major crop in about 20 other states, Grassley said, adding that he hopes lawmakers from those states will speak up for biofuels.

“I hope those 20 other senators will help join in this effort so this doesn’t become just an Iowa project,” Grassley said.

The senator’s remarks follow the Justice Department’s request for two additional weeks to consider appealing the ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that EPA was overly generous with biofuel blending exemptions it granted to three refineries (Greenwire, March 9).

The court granted the request Monday, giving the administration until March 24 to appeal if it chooses. If the court’s ruling were applied nationally, EPA would be allowed only to extend existing exemptions, not issue new ones.

The federal renewable fuel standard requires the mixing of biofuel into the nation’s fuel supply, including at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol annually.

Senators critical of the court’s ruling said its reasoning might make exemptions unavailable to all but two small refineries if applied retroactively, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Exemptions are granted annually, based on refineries’ evidence that complying with biofuel blending requirements would pose an economic hardship.

The Justice Department’s filing last Friday set off a flurry of reactions from lawmakers and trade groups on both sides of the issue. But the lines are a bit blurred; the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes the RFS broadly, said the administration should let the ruling stand.

Trade groups said the administration’s move appeared to indicate an appeal is likely, influenced by oil state senators such as Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Grassley, however, told reporters he sees the scenario differently: that asking for more time gives officials a chance to work out a compromise that helps refiners while preserving the RFS.

“I read it as just the opposite,” Grassley said. “There’s a chance for us to find other avenues.”

Biofuel policy continues to create a delicate dance between the Department of Agriculture and EPA, with EPA holding the final decisions.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, facing questions about the RFS at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday, said the 10th Circuit ruling would reduce the number of exemptions, which he’s held have dampened the ethanol industry and hurt farmers.

“It’s been a real hardship on the ethanol industry and those producers,” Perdue said.