Pruitt talks up ethanol in Iowa visit

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, December 4, 2017

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt touted his agency’s moves on ethanol in an Iowa speech today, a day after announcing renewable fuel volumes that disappointed many biofuel advocates.

Speaking in Nevada, Iowa, Pruitt told farmers, ethanol producers and local officials that he sees growth potential in conventional ethanol — mostly made from corn — and believes the United States should aim to export more of the alternative fuel.

Pruitt’s supportive language about ethanol contrasts to the lukewarm relationship he appears to have had with biofuel supporters in recent weeks. Although yesterday’s announcement met the congressional mandate of 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol for 2018 — the maximum allowed, Pruitt said — officials kept biodiesel and other biofuels essentially flat.

Pruitt also congratulated EPA for meeting the annual deadline for deciding renewable fuel volumes for the first time in several years. And he drew attention to an issue that has pitted the oil industry against ethanol producers — which parties should be responsible for meeting the renewable fuel standard.

That obligation now falls on fuel refiners, including companies that don’t work with ethanol and have to buy renewable fuel credits to show compliance. Refiners had asked EPA to shift responsibility to fuel blenders.

Pruitt, often cast as an ally of the oil industry, today defended his decision to side with ethanol supporters in that fight, to which the crowd applauded.

“We wanted to provide clarity in the marketplace,” Pruitt said.

Earlier in the day, Pruitt was interviewed on KCCI television in Des Moines, where he said the United States has a “tremendous opportunity” in conventional ethanol and could in the years ahead exceed the 15-billion-gallon cap set by Congress in the renewable fuel standard.

But the United States faces challenges producing enough biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol to satisfy the standard, he added.

Biodiesel imports, which have totaled 700 million gallons from Argentina this year, are one indication of the difficulty the U.S. industry has in meeting obligations domestically, Pruitt said.

“We really shouldn’t be importing biodiesel to meet an obligation that we’ve set,” Pruitt said.