Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said President Donald Trump understands he “really messed up with the farmers” when he approved 31 waivers allowing refiners to forgo ethanol blending requirements outlined in the Renewable Fuel Standards. However, Ernst said the President, after several conversations with top staff and herself, didn’t agree to change that decision.
Ernst told a crowd gathered in Forest City on Friday that she had two calls with Trump on Thursday. She added that Ambassador Terry Branstad also spoke with Trump about the waivers earlier in the week.
“When I followed up with Ambassador Branstad after that meeting, he said, ‘I did get very emotional with the President, I communicated all those things you had gathered,’ and, he said, ‘I think the President understood that he had just really messed up with the farmers and our ability to produce biofuels,'” Ernst explained.
Ernst couldn’t say too much about what Trump has and has not agreed to since their conversations haven’t been approved yet by the White House’s legal team yet, but “I can tell you what wasn’t agreed upon that we had wanted to see is that they would rescind the SREs.” She noted that the top line things they agreed to “will be helpful” but that, in Ernst’s judgement, “needs to be sooner.”
“They’re helpful, but they’re not right now,” she said.
“This has been really tough,” Ernst said. “They approved 31 of the small refinery exemptions, they waived six. We would have liked to see all of those small refinery exemptions go away.”
Ernst was responding to a question from Kelly Hansen, the general manager of Poet Biorefining in Hanlontown.
Hansen said the 31 ethanol waivers mean 4 billion gallons of the 15 billion gallons of ethanol produced annually won’t be created this year.
“One of my concerns is really the impact that has on the industry itself, as well as the market,” Hansen said. “Those gallons represent 1.4 billion bushels of corn that won’t be used by the ethanol industry.”
Hansen said of Poet Biorefining’s 28 refineries, half of those will be operating at a reduced rate.
“I’m hopeful you could share your perspective and possible path to reversing those waivers,” he told Ernst during the town hall.
Ernst explained Trump held a meeting Thursday with Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Sonny Purdue, the United States Secretary of Agriculture; and Larry Kudlow, the director of the United States National Economic Council.
Afterwords, the group called Ernst and put her on speakerphone. She said they “ran through a list of items they had agreed upon in that meeting.”
“It was very quick, very top line,” Ernst said about the conversation. “So what I asked them to do was put that into a document and provide that to my office so I’d have time to go through that. We don’t have that document yet. I’ve been communicating with the folks at the White House. They thought they could get it maybe out today, but they said it might be Monday. The China issue kind of popped up and it’s thrown them off a little bit.”
She said she’s concerned because something needs to happen soon.
“I’ve been on the phone. You know, the time I travel between these town halls and meetings, I’m on the phone with co-ops. I’m on the phone with producers. I did a farmers round table this morning,” Ernst said. “And farmers are hurting. Farmers are hurting. Ethanol producers are hurting. And we need to see something right now.”
She said it’s a tough situation for everyone to be in.
“It’s not tough to defend the RFS, but it’s tough knowing we’re on one side of a battle and we’ve got oil on the other side of the battle, and we’re pushing and pulling when we should maybe be working together,” Ernst said “At the end of the day, we could all end up driving electric cars in another couple of years. I mean, so why don’t we all work together instead?”
by Paige Godden