As Iowa’s ethanol industry suffers at the hands of President Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Joni Ernst continues to complain about the Cabinet official she helped to confirm.
“I would assess that there are a lot of people within this administration, particularly EPA, that have that bent or that feel to support ‘big oil,'” said Ernst, last month in a phone call with Iowa reporters. “So, that’s where we need to be very aggressive in voicing our support of the RFS and what has now been termed as ‘big corn.'”
In February, Ernst and fellow Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley voted in favor of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to lead the EPA.
As a lobbyist, Wheeler argued against President Obama’s climate regulations for coal-fired power plants and fought for subsidies for the facilities.
In 2017, the Republican senators voted for Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, a well-known anti-ethanol oil lobbyist.
Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma and was a vocal denier that carbon dioxide emissions contribute to climate change. Ethanol producers and their supporters were glad to see Pruitt leave the agency, accusing him of pushing an “anti-ethanol, anti-farmer bias.”
At Wheeler’s confirmation hearing earlier this year, Ernst voiced concerns about his commitment to year-round E15, the prolific use of Small Refinery Exemptions and disregard for the Renewable Fuel Standard [RFS].
“Can you assure me that that you will be examining those exemptions and not giving blanket exemptions as it appears has been done in the past by your predecessor?” Ernst asked.
Since then, Wheeler’s EPA, with reported support from the president, has granted dozens of waivers to oil refineries in an effort to skirt ethanol blending rules.
A total of 85 waivers have been granted since Trump took office, resulting in a loss of 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel. Thirty-one of those waivers came in the month of August alone.
Last week, a third Iowa biodiesel plant announced its intention to close due to mounting financial losses.
“While the president — I think his intentions are wonderful in supporting our farmers — we have seen the EPA throw us under the bus before,” Ernst said.
Ernst, Grassley, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and other Midwest Republicans recently met with Trump to emphasize the importance of supporting the ethanol industry, which has suffered significant losses as prices and production drop. Trump then met with senators from states reliant on oil production, allegedly in an attempt to gather input from both sides so he could implement a new biofuels policy amenable to both interest groups.
“I do think there’s a lot of oil influence at some of these agencies, and we just need to be very, very aggressive and vocal, and that’s exactly what I have been doing with the president,” Ernst said.
Today, Reuters reported the EPA “has temporarily halted work on a biofuels policy adjustment to help farmers as it awaits direction from the White House … ”
According to the article posted Tuesday morning, “The causes of the delay include recent demands made by the representatives of the oil industry for concessions in the deal to boost biofuel use, as well as the launch by Congress of an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump that has diverted the administration’s attention.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Ernst photo by Julie Fleming