President Trump, Kansas farmers had your back. Don’t let the EPA destroy biofuel rules

Source: By Michael Spencer, Kansas City Star • Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2020

Kansas farmer Michael Spencer with his daughter, Madeline.
Kansas farmer Michael Spencer with his daughter, Madeline. Submitted photo

President Donald Trump has expressed his fondness for America’s farmers many times over the past four years, calling them “the backbone of our country,” “great friends of mine” and “people that we love.”

On Election Day, it was obvious that the feeling is mutual: Farmers love Trump as much as he loves them.

Farmers across rural America turned out in droves to support the president. Here in Kansas, 100 of our 105 counties voted for Trump, and he won more of the vote in most of those counties than he did in 2016.

That phenomenon wasn’t unique to Kansas. In 98 of the Iowa’s 99 counties, for example, Trump won a larger share of votes cast than he did four years ago. Agricultural communities across the heartland saw increased margins for Trump compared to 2016. According to a Farm Journal poll conducted days before the election, a whopping 85% of farmers planned to vote for Trump.

But while farmers across the country faithfully stood by Trump, we remain deeply skeptical and uneasy about the intentions of his Environmental Protection Agency in the wake of the election. As the nation’s attention remains focused on the transfer of power, it feels as if something sinister is brewing at EPA — something that could damage the fragile farm economy and derail its recovery from COVID-19 disruptions.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, a law requiring oil refiners to blend annually increasing amounts of renewable fuels such as corn ethanol into gasoline and diesel, remains under quiet assault from inside the EPA.

Blending ethanol reduces harmful emissions, lowers fuel prices, lessens our dependence on foreign oil and boosts demand for commodities. But EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former fossil fuel lobbyist, appears determined to undermine the standard as the sun begins to set on 2020. In a recent interview with a top oil industry lobbyist, Wheeler asserted that the Renewable Fuel Standard and its affiliated credit market are “out of control,” saying, “We are trying to figure out a way of helping the situation.” He thanked the oil industry for “trying to find common ground” on the “perplexing issues around the RFS.”

Those statements should send chills down the spine of every farmer and ethanol producer in America.

There are a multitude of ways that Wheeler could still damage the standard and the farmers who depend on its enforcement. First, the EPA is still considering giving waivers to 35 oil refineries that would let them ignore their obligations to blend biofuels, even after a federal appeals court found in January that those exemptions are illegal. And even though the EPA decided not to appeal the decision, it has so far refused to implement the court’s order.

Making matters worse, the EPA has not yet proposed the law’s blending requirements for 2021. Typically, blending obligations for the next year are proposed in July and finalized by November. The EPA’s delay in even proposing the 2021 standards is leading to speculation that the agency may try to lower the required biofuel volumes — or take a pass on setting standards altogether.

Finally, the EPA has failed to deny a handful of unsubstantiated Renewable Fuel Standard waiver requests from oil state politicians, many of whom appeared to be posturing ahead of the election.

If Wheeler were to grant any of these waivers in the waning moments of 2020, it would have disastrous effects on the farmers who strongly supported Trump. A cut to biofuel requirements would mean more lost demand and lower prices for corn and soybeans. That’s exactly why Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a farmer himself, said recently that if Wheeler is “determined to do the bidding of the refineries, instead of following the Trump administration policy, he should step aside.”

We agree. And that’s why farmers are appealing to the president to keep the EPA in line. Trump said farmers “have been with me from the beginning,” a fact strongly reconfirmed on Nov. 3. Now, we’re asking the president to stick with us and ensure that the EPA upholds the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard and rejects all remaining waiver requests as 2020 comes to a close.

Michael Spencer is part of a third-generation family farm based in Colony, Kansas, where he and his family grow a corn and soybean rotation across 7,000 acres.