Iowa farmers are furious over a recent major decision from Donald Trump’s EPA that is undercutting corn growers in favor of oil companies. Robb Ewoldt, a farmer from Northeast Iowa, expressed his frustrations to Starting Line in a conversation this week.
“We got to get somebody in the White House to hear, ‘you know, we were with you, we voted for you, we understand the trade-war issue, but we don’t understand why you’re stabbing us in the back with this EPA and these exemptions,'” Ewoldt said. “We’re tired of just falling in line, we need to voice our opinions a little bit louder.”
The exemptions Ewoldt is referring to are part of the latest round of small refinery waivers granted by the EPA, allowing large petroleum companies to avoid blending billions of gallons of ethanol into their products. Over the weekend, they granted 31 exemptions for 2018. This number is a slight drop-off from the 35 out of 37 granted in 2017, but is another step in the same direction.
Trump ordered Andrew Wheeler and the EPA to review their stance on the waivers after he was scolded by farmers and biofuel groups during a trip to Iowa in June. But now, just over a month after returning to D.C. and requesting they update their approach, the waivers continue to flow, while ethanol sales do not.
Support Wavers After New Round of Waivers
“We’ve tried to follow along, and we understood this trade war deal. This part, not using a renewable fuel, it just baffles me,” explained Ewoldt. “And I think we need to take our gloves off and get to it, because I’m not gonna take it much more, and I think the White House needs to know that with this election coming up.”
With the China trade war continuing, the market for corn has been trampled – both internationally with the trade dispute and domestically with ethanol waivers – and farmers are not happy.
“I was hoping Andrew Wheeler was going to be following the law, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Jacob Handsaker, a farmer from Radcliffe, told Starting Line. “I believe farmers are being used as a marketing chip and ploy right now. [We] would certainly rather have trade, not aid, in these situations.”
Handsaker said he isn’t ready to throw Trump overboard because of the China dispute just yet, but the culmination of issues has led to growing frustration amongst farmers, and a feeling that their interests just don’t matter right now.
“Politically, it used to be that farmers mattered, and I just really question whether they do or not. Because of the small refinery exemptions and this trade deal with China, I really would have thought, in a soybean state, that Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst would have been all over this and it would have been taken care of within a year,” said David Weaver, a farmer from Rippey, Iowa. “The fact that it’s lingering tells me that farmers have lost their political voice.”
Draining The Swamp?
But for farmers, especially those who supported Trump in 2016, the administration’s actions have been a complete detachment of their campaign message that they would have rural Americans’ backs.
“I guess we have a relatively small billfold to compete in D.C. compared to the petroleum guys, but I think the President needs to step up and say, ‘hey, enough’s enough with these exemptions. Let’s tighten this down and let’s help out the American farmers,'” said Ewoldt. “Because we’re taking it on the chin, and it’s not good out here in the country, and I think the president needs to realize that.”
National & Regional Groups Upset As Well
Aside from farmers, plenty of farming and biofuel leaders and organizations are upset about the most recent round of waivers.
“The EPA has proven beyond any doubt that it doesn’t care about following the law, American jobs, or even the president’s promises,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor. “These exemptions are destroying demand for homegrown energy at a time when family farms are struggling, farm income is plummeting and many ethanol plants have been forced to close their doors or idle production. The impact on rural communities cannot be overstated.”
“Waivers benefit big oil at the expense of corn farmers who, between losing export markets abroad and ethanol markets at home, are losing patience,” said Lynn Chrisp, President of the National Corn Growers Association. “Mr. President, you proudly stand with farmers, but your EPA isn’t following through. You can step up for farmers today by reining in RFS waivers.”
President Trump has always made the agricultural economy a topic of emphasis during his trips to Iowa, but his response to concerns has left the biofuel industry here disappointed.
“Just two months ago, President Trump himself heard directly from Iowa farmers and ethanol plant workers about the disastrous economic impacts of these small refinery handouts,” said Geoff Cooper, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “In response, he told us he would ‘look into it’ and we believed that would lead to the White House and EPA finally putting an end to these devastating waivers.”
But as many farmers now know, that simply was not the case.
“Instead, the Trump Administration chose to double down on the exemptions, greatly exacerbating the economic pain being felt in rural America and further stressing an industry already on life support,” Cooper explained in a statement.
This bait-and-switch was noted by Iowa Democrats several weeks ago, but now that it is official, more groups are jumping into the mix, furious about the EPA’s consistent, detrimental decisions.
Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of Advanced Biofuels Business Council, said that it is, “amazing that the White House could take a long, hard look at the damage this EPA is doing to rural America and decide to double down. Biofuel plants across the farm belt are closing their doors. There is simply no legal or economic justification for more handouts to oil giants like Exxon and Chevron.”
by Josh Cook
Photo by Julie Fleming