Iowa, Nebraska senators to meet with EPA pick Scott Pruitt to gauge his support of ethanol

Source: By Joseph Morton, Omaha World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has a date with a group of Midwestern senators seeking promises he won’t gut federal policies that promote renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol.

Pruitt’s ability to assure those farm-state lawmakers during the meeting, scheduled for this afternoon, could determine whether he’s confirmed as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt has criticized the agency for what he considers regulatory overreach — a position that thrills regulation-weary farmers and the Republican senators who represent them.

But Pruitt also has criticized the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, echoing complaints from the oil industry that such a policy is simply unworkable. The RFS, which by law requires certain amounts of renewable fuels be blended into the gasoline supply, has been key to the explosive growth of the ethanol industry, particularly in Iowa and Nebraska — the No. 1 and No. 2 ethanol-producing states.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arranged today’s meeting with Pruitt to discuss the importance of renewable fuels. Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, both Nebraska Republicans, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, plan to attend.

Fischer and Ernst both sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee that will be responsible for overseeing Pruitt’s confirmation. Both told The World-Herald that they’d like to see him publicly state the assurances related to the RFS that he’s made privately to senators.

Ernst said farmers aren’t just feeding the world, they’re now fueling it as well.

“We don’t want to see an administration that will come in and rip that away from those that have invested heavily in the technology, invested their capital, their families’ hopes and dreams into this,” Ernst said.

Fischer met with Pruitt separately on Wednesday. She said he assured her that he believes in following the law, which calls for the RFS to continue. She said she has heard some concerns from Nebraskans about Pruitt’s nomination.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to put their concerns at ease in the nomination process,” Fischer said.

Sasse said he’s looking forward to hearing more of Pruitt’s views on issues important to Nebraska agriculture.

Also on the attendance list: Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Roberts of Kansas. All are Republicans.

Iowa is the top ethanol-producing state in the country at more than 4 billion gallons produced last year. Nebraska comes in second place with more than 2 billion gallons last year.

And they want those gallons to keep flowing.

“It’s very important that we continue to have policies that promote both domestic and international growth in biofuels like ethanol,” said Todd Sneller, Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator.

Sneller said he expects Pruitt to hear from the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition and others on the subject.

Sneller said Pruitt could make immediate moves to help the industry by revisiting the technical data that underlies restrictions on the use of E-15 blends.

That point was echoed by Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

“This EPA could move very quickly to equalize the volatility regulations that govern E-10 and E-15, which would open up huge markets, huge markets, for E-15 blends that right now are problematic,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the current uncertainty over the new administration’s direction on renewable fuels could have a chilling effect on new investment in infrastructure.

But he also noted that, as a candidate, Trump expressed support for renewable fuels. In fact, he used the issue to attack a chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who had criticized the RFS.

“An Oklahoman with a fairly long track record of not supporting the RFS was not at the top of my wish list to head the EPA,” Shaw said. “But that’s who President-elect Trump has picked, and the fact of the matter is the policy is going to be set at the White House by Mr. Trump.”

He said the key is ensuring that Pruitt lives up to the incoming president’s campaign promises.

“I certainly hope that the Iowa senators and the other Midwesterners make sure that Mr. Pruitt is ready to toe the line with what Donald Trump has promised,” Shaw said.