Trump’s follow-through bodes well for renewable fuels, advocates say

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017

President Donald Trump’s quick action on campaign promises — tackling trade and immigration, and pushing to build a wall on the Mexican border — is a good sign the nation’s new CEO will follow through on his commitment to support renewable fuels, advocates say.

The industry, uncertain about what to expect from the new president, looked for reasons to be optimistic at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, where Trump pledged his support to biofuels and ethanol last year.

“This guy has done what he’s said he’s going to do,” Eamonn Bryne, president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association board, told about 700 industry leaders Tuesday. “How he’s done it, maybe, not all of us would agree with him. But he’s done it.”

Since his election, though, Trump has appointed cabinet members that favor the oil industry: Trump picked Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, energy secretary; and Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobile Corp., secretary of state.

It’s made some in the industry question whether the administration will support the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that requires ethanol and biodiesel be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

“I get all the reasons for angst,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

But “it’s not the Perry administration. It’s not the Pruitt administration. It is not the Rex Tillerson administration. It’s Donald Trump’s administration, and they understand what the boss wants from this program,” Dinneen said.

Gov. Terry Branstad, Trump’s pick as ambassador to China, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds continued the message, touting jobs the industry creates in rural Iowa.

Reynolds said Perry told her at Trump’s inauguration the president questioned him closely about his support for coal, wind and ethanol. Perry’s ethanol answer must have been too slow, she said. Trump told Perry “we love ethanol. Iowa farmers love ethanol. Iowa farmers were good to me. We like ethanol,” she said.

“One thing about Donald Trump,” Branstad said, “he knows who his friends are.

“The fact that farmers and rural America supported him to such a great degree, especially here in Iowa, the heart of ethanol production, that’s important to him. And I don’t think it’s something he’ll forget.”

​Still, Branstad said it will be critical the industry continue to press Trump and his administration about ethanol and biodiesel. It’s important to “educate him, the director of EPA and other key decision-makers in the administration,” the governor said.

Renewable fuels leaders debated how they would fare in some recent Trump actions.

For example, Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said a proposal Trump floated last week to place a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico and other countries with trade deficits, such as China, could hurt the ethanol industry.

Mexico and China, as well as Canada, are strong export markets for ethanol and dried distillers grains, a protein byproduct from ethanol that’s used to feed cattle.

Branstad said he believes the Trump proposals were designed to leverage better trade deals.

“This is just the beginning of the negotiations,” the governor said.

Shaw said Trump’s drive for fair trade and opening export markets could help the industry, which has fought “blatantly illegal” trade barriers in China and the European Union.

“It would be refreshing to have a president who fights for us,” said Shaw, adding that the Obama administration declined to join the industry’s trade complaint.

Shaw said the industry also could benefit by Trump’s efforts to reduce regulations.

“He says he wants to get rid of stupid regulations,” he said. “Well, we’re hemmed in by all kinds of stupid regulations … that impede competition.”

But with so many uncertainties, Shaw recommended the industry get ready for some ups and downs.

“We better tighten our seat belts,” Shaw said. “I think the next year is going to be a wild ride.”