In Iowa, Trump promises to personally get involved in corn farmers’ dispute with EPA

Source: By Abby Smith, Washington Examoner • Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Iowa corn farmers could get a boost in a long-running dispute with oil refiners as President Trump pledged to talk to Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing biofuels requirements on their behalf.

Trump said Tuesday during a visit to Iowa that he’ll personally weigh in with EPA officials on dozens of exemption waivers small oil refiners are seeking for prior years of federal biofuels blending requirements.

“We’ll speak to them. I’ll speak to them. I’ll do it myself,” Trump said during a visit to Iowa, under pressure from Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican.

“We just need help from the EPA to follow the intent of the law with the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Ernst told Trump. Ernst, who has been ramping up pressure on the EPA and the administration in recent weeks, asked Trump to direct the EPA to “dispense of” the waiver requests from small refiners.

Trump, while agreeing to talk to EPA officials, didn’t commit to blocking the waivers, however.

“Our farmers just really need some help this year obviously with the crop damage, and that would be a great step forward,” Ernst said, citing massive crop damage Iowa experienced from intense wind storms last week. At least 10 million acres of Iowa crops, or 43% of the state’s corn and soybean crop, were damaged or destroyed by the derecho storm, according to estimates from Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican.

The dispute over the RFS waivers has been brewing for a couple of months. The EPA is weighing more than 50 petitions from small refiners for previous years of the biofuels requirements, and Trump EPA officials, including Administrator Andrew Wheeler, haven’t indicated how they will handle them.

Ernst and other corn-state lawmakers, as well as biofuels producers, see the so-called gap year waivers as an attempt to circumvent a federal appeals court decision from January curbing the EPA’s ability to issue such waivers in the future.

Oil-state lawmakers and industry groups, however, have said that court decision will have a devastating effect on small refineries, and the law allows refiners to petition for relief “at any time.”

Trump, during the briefing in Iowa on Tuesday, appeared to tout his moves last year to allow year-round sale of higher blend ethanol, known as E15. He also asked Ernst how ethanol producers are doing, acknowledging “it’s got to be a little bit tough” with the markets.

“It’s very tough right now, and through COVID we saw a decrease in driving, and so the sales of ethanol have not been up where they should be,” Ernst said in response. The recent crop damages set Iowa farmers further back, she added.