Under attack, ethanol industry clings to Trump: ‘The president is on our side’

Source: By Ben Wolfgang, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2018

SAN ANTONIO — With their industry under increasing attack, ethanol leaders on Tuesday appealed directly to President Trump and cast him as an unwavering ally who will stand up for their interests in Washington, even as key administration officials examine regulatory changes that could hurt the biofuels sector.

At the industry’s annual convention here, Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said he fully expects Mr. Trump to make good on his campaign promises to protect ethanol. Throughout his 2016 presidential bid, Mr. Trump vowed to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal program that requires the blending of ethanol with gasoline.

The sector is clinging to that campaign promise even though the president hasn’t recently waded into the growing fight over ethanol.

“The bottom line is this: there is no reason for the ethanol industry or its champions in Washington to accept demand destruction as a necessary or legal path to the future to accommodate the failed business plans of a few independent refiners,” said Mr. Dinneen, who leads the industry’s top trade group. “The facts are on our side. The success of the RFS is on our side. And the president is on our side.”

But Mr. Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has suggested in recent weeks that key parts of the RFS need to be reformed. That declaration has come amid serious attacks on ethanol from Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and independent oil refineries who say they’re on the verge of bankruptcy because of structural flaws with the RFS.

Ethanol industry leaders acknowledge the sustained campaign is having an effect.

“Buoyed by sympathizers in the administration and their champions on Capitol Hill, fueled by funding we can only imagine, and willing to distort reality to fit their agenda, efforts to undermine the growth in renewable fuels, repeal or render toothless the Renewable Fuel Standard, and deny consumers choice at the pump are gaining momentum,” Mr. Dinneen said.

In fighting those efforts, Mr. Dinneen and other ethanol champions want the president’s help. Mr. Trump’s pro-ethanol stance began during his presidential campaign in 2016, when the then-candidate, looking to woo voters in the ethanol-friendly Midwest, offered a clear, unambiguous promise that the sector would have an ally in the White House if he were elected.

“The EPA should ensure that biofuel … blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress” when it passed the RFS in 2007, Mr. Trump said during his campaign in one example of his staunch support for the sector.

For now, his administration has followed suit. Last year, Mr. Pruitt, a longtime ethanol critic, backed off potential plans to slash the amount of ethanol that must be blended with gasoline each year.

Since then, however, he’s opened the door to reforms in light of continued attacks from Mr. Cruz and other heavily pro-oil lawmakers.

The industry now wants another strong show of support.

“I want the president to understand that his EPA is not fulfilling the president’s promise to address this issue,” Mr. Dinneen told reporters.

Mr. Trump’s support could be more important than ever for the ethanol industry. On the heels of a bankruptcy declaration by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, an East Coast refinery that says it’s in financial peril because of the RFS, strong forces in Washington have taken direct aim at the sector. Mr. Dinneen and others in the industry have said the Philadelphia bankruptcy largely is due to mismanagement — an allegation that sparked strong pushback from powerful labor unions representing workers there.

“Philadelphia Energy Solutions and the United Steelworkers are appalled that the Renewable Fuels Associationhas launched a dishonest campaign, fabricating ‘facts’ about PES’s business and mocking the livelihoods of thousands of manufacturing workers in refineries across America,” the refinery and the United Steelworkers said in a joint statement. “Despite these attacks, we will continue the work of improving our business, providing high quality and high wage jobs to our employees, and delivering essential fuels to our community.”