In the wake of news an Iowa-based biofuels producer will cut jobs and production due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proliferation of “Small Refinery Exemptions” for oil companies, Iowa congresswoman Cindy Axne called for a federal investigation into the Trump Administration’s controversial policy.
Axne held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs to highlight the letter she sent to the EPA’s acting inspector general, Charles Sheehan.
“I remember hearing the president say that he’s the best thing to ever happen to farmers,” said Axne, at the press conference. “As a matter of fact, that’s a joke. He’s creating problems that are hurting our farming community. He is hurting our farmers and we need to make sure that we hold this administration accountable to doing the right thing, which is making sure that we protect the ethanol industry and stop issuing these waivers that aren’t needed, that are unnecessary and don’t benefit anybody but already rich fossil fuel companies.”
Small refinery waivers were implemented during President George W. Bush’s administration to help companies experiencing “undue hardship” due to blending rules associated with the Renewable Fuel Standard. But critics say the EPA under Trump has granted waivers far beyond what is considered a “small refinery” in an effort to appease the oil industry.
In her three-page letter to Sheehan, Axne said she had a “grave concern that the Environmental Protection Agency is violating Congressional intent to increase blending of renewable fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”
Due to the “unprecedented” use of Small Refinery Exemptions [SREs] by the Trump Administration, Axne said, more than 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel blending was waived.
Axne has asked Sheehan for “an immediate investigation” into the SREs granted in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and to determine the reasoning stated by EPA for each waiver it granted.
“The EPA’s misuse of the small refinery hardship waiver authority must end,” said Axne, at the conclusion of her letter. “Rural economies and farmers cannot withstand more of the same.”
As part of the House Biofuels Caucus, Axne and fellow Iowa Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Dave Loebsack sent a letter Tuesday to the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into the EPA’s use of small refinery waivers.
“The renewable fuels industry and our famers have fought hard for a seat at the table and President Trump looked Iowans in the eye and promised he’d listen, but actions speak much louder than words,” said Finkenauer, a fellow House freshman, Tuesday in a statement. “That’s why I’m standing up and fighting to get to the bottom of why Iowans and renewable fuels are once again on the losing end of this secretive process at the EPA.”
Patty Judge, a former Iowa secretary of agriculture, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate candidate, in her new role with the nonprofit Focus on Rural America, has visited with Democratic presidential candidates at ethanol facilities across Iowa to educate them on the importance of the RFS and the harm being caused by the refinery exemptions.
On Tuesday, POET, the Iowa-based biofuels producer that also is the world’s largest, announced it will stop production at its bioprocessing plant in Indiana “due to recent decisions by the Administration regarding SREs [Small Refinery Exemptions].
In addition, POET said in a press release, it has reduced production at half of its 28 biorefineries, “with the largest drops taking place in Iowa and Ohio.”
“Iowa farmers have been warning this Administration for months about the devastating impact these waivers are having on our economy,” said Axne, Tuesday in a statement. “We’re losing Iowa jobs as a direct result of Washington policies.”
On Aug. 9, the Trump Administration announced 31 additional Small Refinery Exemptions for the 2018 RFS compliance year, bringing the total number of waivers to 85 over a three-year period.
“POET made strategic decisions to support President Trump’s goal of boosting the farm economy,” said Jeff Lautt, president and COO of POET, in a statement. “However, these goals are contradicted by bailouts to oil companies.”
Iowa’s Republican senators, Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley, have been critical of Trump and his EPA for the harm small refinery waivers have caused the state’s biofuel industry.
“They screwed us when they issued 31 waivers, compared to less than 10 waivers in all of the [President Barack] Obama years — and we thought that was bad,” said Grassley, on Friday’s episode of “Iowa Press.”
Axne’s press conference today was not the first time she has spoken up on this issue since taking office in January.
In May, Axne led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in writing a letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, requesting his agency stop granting Small Refinery Exemptions to “large or unqualified refiners.”
And in April, the congresswoman authored legislation to codify the biofuel producer tax credit program to help incentivize investment in biofuel production. The $1.01 per gallon tax credit for producers expired at the end of 2017.
By Elizabeth Meyer
Photo by Julie Fleming