Trump’s energy pick gives Iowa biofuels supporters heartburn

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2016

Let’s be honest, says Monte Shaw, who leads Iowa’s renewable fuels association: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry wouldn’t be on his short list to lead the nation’s energy department.

Nor would Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

The oil state representatives have opposed the Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal mandate that requires ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. That causes more than a little heartburn in the state that’s the nation’s largest producer of renewable fuels.

But Shaw said Perry and Pruitt answer to a boss — President-elect Donald Trump — who has repeatedly supported renewable fuel.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t have a few sleepless nights,” he said.

Shaw’s not the only Iowan concerned about Trump’s appointment of Perry and other fossil-fuel supporters to key posts.

Sen. Chuck Grassley said he plans to press Pruitt and Perry on their views on renewable energy during confirmation.

“I’ll be glad to explain the many benefits of biofuels to U.S. economic and national security, energy independence and American job growth,” he said Wednesday.

Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that Trump reassured him during the president-elect’s stop in Des Moines earlier this month that Pruitt “is going to be for ethanol.”

“I think that was basically a condition he laid out” when Trump appointed Pruitt, said Branstad, Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to China.

Iowa environmentalists slammed Trump’s pick of Perry, who sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas company that’s building the controversial $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline across Iowa and three other states.

It has prompted thousands of protesters to join the Standing Rock Sioux encamped in North Dakota to stop the nearly 1,200-mile project.

The company failed to get a U.S. Corps of Engineers easement to cross Lake Oahe, a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, earlier this month. But it’s expected to get the required permits to complete construction from Trump’s more energy-friendly administration.

“It’s a terrible conflict of interest,” said Carolyn Raffensperger, the Ames-based executive director of Science and Environmental Health Network, a national environmental group that opposes the pipeline.

Neila Seaman, the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter director, agreed.

“There’s no way he could run that agency impartially,” she said. “Perry has promoted dirty fuel and ignored the climate crisis, and he’s as unfit for the position as Trump’s other climate-change deniers.”

In addition to Pruitt and Perry, Trump has nominated Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as secretary of state and Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to be interior secretary.

Raffensperger and Seaman question how Perry, who campaigned in 2012 to shut down the energy department, can lead it.

“How can you lead an agency you’ve pledged to gut?” Raffensperger said.

Both Shaw and Raffensperger worry that oil interests might drive long-term energy department research.

Shaw said ongoing research into high-efficiency engines could benefit renewable fuels.

“We’ve been encouraged about some of the research” looking at fuel with up to 40 percent ethanol, he said. “There are a lot of smart people in the auto industry who think that’s where the future is,” he said.

Raffensperger said she’s concerned about research into green energy.

“We need visionary research that’s led by the Department of Energy,” she said. “The incoming administration looks like it will reward big oil and gas” and fail to take into account human activities that scientists say are driving climate change.

Adam Mason, state policy director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said Trump is handing “the reins of government over to big-money corporate interests.”

“Voters may have wanted change, but what we’re seeing with appointments like Rick Perry is the worst of big money, business-as-usual politics. It’s not good,“ he said.

In Texas, Perry fast-tracked permits to speed coal power plant construction, Seaman said, but also backed wind energy growth.

“It’s hard to tell what he supports,” she said.

Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, takes heart in Texas’ wind — and solar — development while Perry led the state.

Texas leads the nation in wind energy generation with 18,531 megawatts, followed by Iowa at 6,365 megawatts.

The American Wind Energy  Association said Texas saw 25,000 wind energy jobs with $32 billion invested.

“The hope is that Perry takes his experience with renewables with Texas and applies that nationwide,” Mandelbaum said, adding that Perry has also touted the benefits of electric cars.

“If those experiences inform how he acts as secretary of energy, there could be positives,” he said.