U.S. ethanol group clashes with Icahn over details of biofuels negotiation

Source: By Chris Prentice and Jennifer Ablan • Posted: Saturday, March 4, 2017

The head of the Renewable Fuels Association says billionaire investor Carl Icahn told him last week President Donald Trump was about to issue an order overhauling the U.S. biofuels program – something both Icahn and the White House have denied.

Confusion over Trump’s plans for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires increasing volumes of biofuels to be added to gasoline and diesel each year, triggered gyrations in the energy and agricultural markets this week and reopened questions about Icahn’s role shaping the president’s regulatory policy.

Clarifying for the first time how the Washington-based lobbying group had been led to believe Trump was about to alter the Renewable Fuels Program, RFA President Bob Dinneen told Reuters on Thursday that Icahn, an unpaid adviser to Trump on regulatory issues, had been the source.

“Icahn indicated that he had spoken to the president about this issue and the president is supportive,” of making this change to the biofuels program requested by refiners, Dinneen said.

According to Dinneen, Icahn said “the plan was to issue an executive order” that would shift the onus of blending biofuels into gasoline away from refiners and further down the supply chain to gasoline marketers.

The RFA on Tuesday issued a statement saying it had been informed by “an official with the Trump administration” that an executive order was coming to alter the biofuels program in a way that eased the burden on refiners, and that the move was “not negotiable.” The statement did not identify the official.

The White House responded saying an executive order was not in the works, and claimed no knowledge of a Trump official negotiating with the RFA.

Icahn, who owns a controlling stake in refiner CVR Energy Inc, told Reuters late on Thursday that he had indeed been negotiating for RFA’s support of a change to the biofuels program, but denied saying an executive order was pending. “I told Mr. Dinneen that I didn’t know what the president would do, but believed he would be supportive and it would be ideal if we could get this fixed with an executive order,” Icahn said.

He said the negotiation between Dinneen and Icahn resulted in a joint memorandum from them imploring the White House to alter the biofuels program by removing the blending requirement from refiners, and by providing incentives for more ethanol production.

Icahn said refining company Valero was part of the negotiations. A Valero spokeswoman confirmed in an emailed statement that company representatives had met with Dinneen and Icahn. The White House did not comment on those negotiations, but said Icahn “does not have a position with the administration nor a policymaking role.”

“He is simply a private citizen whose opinion the president respects and whom the president speaks with from time to time,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said.

Dinneen said that he was informed by Icahn that the RFA could negotiate some benefits for the biofuels industry in exchange for his the group’s support.

That support was contingent on the change being made “without comprising the integrity to the RFS program,” Dinneen said.

Seven Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, sent a letter to the White House last month, saying Icahn’s role as an adviser to Trump created potential financial conflicts of interest and called for a review. Refiners, including CVR, have long been seeking a way out of being responsible for blending biofuels into gasoline saying the requirement costs them millions of dollars.

Shares of CVR have soared 80 percent since Trump was elected.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago and Jarrett Renshaw in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)