Iowa farm leaders warn Trump could lose rural voters unless he makes good on ethanol deal

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019

Angry over proposed ethanol changes, Iowa agriculture leaders warned Wednesday that President Donald Trump will lose rural voters next year unless he makes good on a deal to restore millions of gallons of lost renewable fuel demand.

“No more Iowa nice. Now, it’s Iowa pissed,” said Craig Floss, CEO of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, repeating the reaction he got from an Iowa farmer after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed changes Tuesday to the federal mandate, called the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The law, known as RFS, outlines how many gallons of ethanol and biodiesel that oil refineries must blend into the nation’s fuel supply each year.

On Tuesday, the EPA said it would account for waivers to the oil industry that frees them from using ethanol and biodiesel, based on an average of the gallons that the U.S. Department of Energy recommends exempting. But the Trump administration earlier this month told farm groups it would use an average of the actual number of renewable fuel gallons that have been waived, which is much larger.

It was a deal the Trump administration and his cabinet struck with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, all Republicans.

“It was a promise made, and a promise broken,” said Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, which held a press conference Wednesday with the Iowa Corn Growers, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and the Iowa Soybean Association.

For example, the energy department, which provides an initial review of small refinery exemption requests, most recently recommended granting waivers for 770 million gallons of renewable fuels. The EPA, however, approved waivers for 1.4 billion gallons during its most recent round of exemptions.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said Trump will take the credit — and the blame — if EPA’s proposed rule is adopted.

“We had a deal, and it’s time to stick to the deal,” said Shaw, who pressed the president to correct the proposed renewable fuels change to reflect the agreement made with Iowa’s lawmakers.

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Since taking office, the Trump administration has granted 85 waivers to oil refineries, freeing them from using 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel. The exemptions have killed demand for 1.4 billion bushels of corn used to make ethanol, industry officials say.

The EPA proposal “would not restart a single” plant that’s been idled in Iowa and the U.S., Shaw said, adding that hundreds of investors in ethanol and biodiesel plants are farmers.

Nearly 30 U.S. ethanol and biodiesel plants have closed either temporarily or permanently because of the exemptions. Four are in Iowa. Dozens more have cut production.

“We’re told we should trust EPA. But why would an Iowan trust the EPA? Look at their track record,” Shaw said.

Floss said Iowa’s economy will be hurt by the EPA’s proposed rule, since about 25% of Iowa’s economy is tied to agriculture. In addition to corn, soybeans, pork and beef production, Iowa also is home to large farm manufacturers such as Deere & Co., the maker of tractors and combines, and Sukup Manufacturing Co., the producer of grain storage and drying equipment.

“So goes ag, so goes the rest of Iowa’s economy,” Floss said.

► From Sept. 30: Iowa business leaders predict slowing economy as trade war with China continues

► More Monday: State panel expects 1.4% revenue growth in 2020; with trade deals, Iowa could do even better

Iowa’s farm economy has struggled in recent years, given large supplies of corn and soybeans, which have depressed prices. They were further lowered by the administration’s trade wars with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries, and now a decline in demand for corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel.

Dave Walton, who farms near Wilton, said the use of soybean oil to make biodiesel adds about 90 cents to the value of a bushel. Last year, Iowa grew nearly 565 million bushels of soybeans.

“This is a huge financial issue for us,” Walton said.

“Our ire is aimed at EPA and Wheeler right now … but the buck stops with the president,” said Walton, who adds Trump risks losing his support over his biofuels plan.

“If he doesn’t fix this, my support will go away,” he said.

Kelly Nieuwenhuis, Siouxland Energy Cooperative board of directors chairman, talks about the decision to halt ethanol production after RSF waivers caused a major reduction in demand. Kelsey Kremer,

Kelly Nieuwenhuis, president of the Siouxland Energy Cooperative board, said he was hoping to get certainty from the Trump administration so leaders could restart the 80-million gallon plant in Sioux Center.

“President Trump has lost a lot of support from those involved in agriculture,” he said, adding that he was disgusted and disappointed with EPA’s news Tuesday.

The EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed change Oct. 30 in Michigan. Its renewable fuels plan was submitted as a supplemental document to the 2020 biofuels requirement.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457.

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