U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst on Thursday told Iowa reporters she would ask President Donald Trump to “fire” Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, if he did not comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard rule to blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply this year.
Ernst, who voted in February 2019 in favor of Wheeler to lead the EPA, has been a relentless critic of the former coal lobbyist as he works to undermine Iowa’s biofuels industry.
“I have heard that multiple times from the president as well as Larry Kudlow, his economic advisor, so darn certain that EPA Administrator Wheeler had better step up,” said Ernst, referring to the 15 billion gallon requirement.
“If we do not see that, I will be asking the president to fire him if he doesn’t resign prior to that,” she continued. “We have been guaranteed that by the administration. We need to make sure that the EPA is following through on what the president wants to see and what is required by law.”
In December, the EPA released its final rule to determine in 2020 the amount of ethanol and biodiesel that will be blended into America’s fuel supply. Though the 15 billion gallon requirement was agreed upon, Iowa politicians and renewable fuels advocates worry the EPA will not even enforce those numbers.
Ernst and senior Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley repeatedly point to a Sept. 12, 2019, Oval Office meeting with Trump, several of his advisors and many Midwest leaders where “an agreement was reached” to use a three-year rolling average of the actual number of gallons waived for refineries. Instead, the Dec. 19, 2019, rule will use an average of the gallons that the Energy Department recommends waiving, which is significantly less.
“Simply requiring that the three-year rolling average be based on hard data and actual waived gallons rather than Department of Energy recommendations and EPA discretion would solve this problem and ensure the renewable volume obligations are met,” said Grassley, Dec. 19, 2019, in a statement.
Since taking office, the Trump Administration has granted 85 waivers to oil refineries, resulting in a 4 billion gallon loss of renewable fuel. Small Refinery Exemptions allow oil refiners to sidestep RFS requirements by releasing them from their obligation to blend ethanol into their fuel supply.
In 2019, at least three Iowa biodiesel plants shut down operations due to the significant downturn in the renewable fuels sector.
When talking with the press Thursday, Ernst said she was in a meeting Tuesday morning with Kudlow, Trump’s economic advisor, where he “once again reemphasized that absolutely, with no uncertainty, we will see 15 billion gallons of ethanol as the law requires.”
By Elizabeth Meyer