Pruitt, Barrasso work to salvage air nominee

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sen. Deb Fischer will support the nomination of Bill Wehrum to lead U.S. EPA’s air office, after Administrator Scott Pruitt huddled yesterday with the Nebraskan and other corn-state Republicans on Capitol Hill to calm jitters over the federal renewable fuel standard.

Fischer told E&E News yesterday she would back Wehrum after a roughly one-hour meeting with Pruitt in the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

“I would say we had a very productive meeting,” she told reporters. “The administrator gave us assurances that he’s going to continue his conversations with us and is committed to working with us on a variety of issues that deal with the RFS.”

But Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa — another EPW Republican who has expressed qualms over Wehrum’s nomination — appeared unswayed by Pruitt.

“Senator Ernst does not believe she received straightforward answers from Mr. Wehrum during [his confirmation hearing], and she would like more clarity from him and Administrator Pruitt on how he will enforce the Clean Air Act — specifically the RFS,” a spokeswoman said in an email after the meeting.

With 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the committee, Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) doesn’t have much leeway. He postponed today’s markup until further notice.

Also attending the meeting were Republican Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, as well as Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Pruitt left Grassley’s office by a side entrance and quickly got into a vehicle without speaking to reporters.

Biofuel supporters have been uneasy with what they see as the administrator’s efforts to scale back volumes of biodiesel and other renewable fuels, which they say contradicts President Trump’s campaign promises (E&E Daily, Oct. 11).

Environmental groups and the oil industry are lobbying for lower blends. Wehrum has worked on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, and his portfolio would include the RFS.

Earlier this week, 33 senators from both parties sent a letter to Pruitt charging that recent proposals would “undermine” biodiesel production.

Grassley, who took to Twitter in recent weeks to question Pruitt’s commitment to the RFS, said he recounted a recent “very short conversation” with Trump about biofuels.

“The president said to me, ‘I campaigned on and promised ethanol, and I want you to tell the people of Iowa I’m still for ethanol,'” Grassley told reporters. “I reiterated this story to Mr. Pruitt and said that you can get into the weeds of what you want to do or not do as a way of policy, but this is an issue of the president keeping his promise to the people.”

Rounds, who also sits on EPW and attended the Pruitt meeting, said earlier yesterday that he planned to back Wehrum despite his concerns over EPA’s handling of the RFS.

“He’s got an obligation to enforce the law,” Rounds said of Pruitt. “I think the most important thing that we want to get is that we’re going to have a commitment that we will be using sound science, period, when it comes to making these decisions.

“That’s something that we found [in] the previous administration we found lacking, and we want Scott to commit once again to using sound science to making these new decisions.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs in the Iraq War, urged all senators who support the RFS to oppose Wehrum.

“I have already fought a war over oil, and I would rather run my car on American-grown corn and soybeans than oil from the Middle East,” Duckworth wrote in The Hill newspaper.

“Mr. Wehrum clearly disagrees. Any senator who supports the RFS program, our farmers, and our commitment to the environment and energy dependence must oppose his nomination.”

Reporters Nick Sobczyk and Sean Reilly contributed.