Pruitt’s new problem with the GOP: Ethanol

Source: By Miranda Green, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The two senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley from corn-heavy Iowa, are specifically displeased with Pruitt for granting a number of exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to refineries that allow them to use less ethanol in their fuel mixes.

The senators say this is a disappointment given Trump’s promises in Iowa and are quick to point out the string of controversies following Pruitt in voicing their displeasure.

“He’s been such a bad actor in so many areas. He’s promised to hold up the letter of the law when it came to the RFS. He has not done that,” Ernst said “And then we see other examples related to taxpayer dollars, his personal staff. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Grassley had equally harsh things to say about Pruitt, calling the various reports on his scandals “pretty condemning.”

“From the standpoint of what Scott Pruitt has done on ethanol, I would say he’s not serving the president right,” Grassley said. “And if the president wants to keep the respect that farmers and ethanol … he better do one of two things: either get rid of Scott Pruitt or get Scott Pruitt to deliver on the president’s promises.”

He also took a shot at Pruitt over a story that the EPA chief had sought to use his power to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise, saying: “I didn’t want to say about the Chick-fil-A thing, but I believe that’s pretty condemning.”

Pruitt has survived as EPA administrator despite a steady drip of controversies in part because Trump and conservatives see him as a strong foot soldier in drawing down Obama-era environmental policies.

This latest criticism from Republican senators on a policy issue is therefore notable.

During the 2016 Iowa primary, Trump expressed support for bolstering the ethanol industry, embracing the RFS.

And in April the president signaled support for the ethanol industry, saying he would change the biofuels policy that limits higher blends of 15 percent ethanol in gas during summer months. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said, “We’re going to raise it up to 15 percent and raise it to a 12-month period.”

But since then, no firm policy decisions have come to light and players close to the issue are growing testy over the final outcome.

In the Senate, there are divisions over the RFS and Ernst and Grassley have been embroiled in at times heated conversations with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

The two Iowa senators want to increase the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline. Cruz and Toomey, who represent heavy oil and gas regions, oppose the current RFS standard mandating that oil and gas companies mix their fuel with ethanol or buy credits on the market to offset their emissions.

Additionally, a number of smaller companies have recently gotten around the rule through applying for small refinery exemptions.

In early April, the Trump administration came under fire by the ethanol industry and environmental groups for granting 25 small refinery exemptions. Previous administrations had granted between six to eight waivers under the 10-year-old program.

The RFS defines a small refinery as creating no more than an average of 75,000 barrels of crude oil per day. However, much larger oil and gas companies have sought to get in on the small refinery exemption, with giants Chevron and Exxon both seeking waivers under the program in early April, according to Reuters.

Some senators are happy with the administration’s actions on refineries and are offering support for Pruitt.

Cruz called him an active part of discussions and said he had an optimistic outlook for negotiations.

“Administrator Pruitt has been an active part of those discussions along with the president and senators across the spectrum and I remain hopeful that we will arrive upon a win-win solution that benefits farmers and refinery workers,” he said.

He said the criticism aimed at Pruitt from senators over the issue simply reflects the politics of the ethanol debate.

“The ethanol lobbyists are used to wielding significant power and unfortunately they have personalized their attacks on Administrator Pruitt as an effort to stop policy decisions they disagree with,” Cruz told The Hill.

Corn farmers and ethanol groups say many of the exemptions granted to EPA are unwarranted, as some of the refineries were offshoots of major companies.

Last Tuesday, Pruitt sat down at a roundtable with representatives from the corn industry during a trip to Kansas.

Ken McCauley, president of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, said farmers were candid about their concerns.

“We took it as a good way to get our information straight to the administration. We took advantage of that and we told him just how we felt, that we were mad as hell,” McCauley, who attended the meeting, told the Hill.

Corn farmers in South Dakota held a tractor rally in Sioux Falls this week to protest the EPA chief as he paid a visit to the state.

“The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, continues to bail out multi-billion-dollar oil refiners at the expense of South Dakota farmers. It’s time to get Administrator Pruitt on board with President Trump’s agenda,” South Dakota Corn wrote in its event description.

When asked about Pruitt’s lackluster welcome to corn country, Ernst said: “What goes around comes around.”