Calling it “the hot topic of the day” in her work, Sen. Joni Ernst responded this afternoon to farmers’ concerns about the Trump Administration reportedly appealing a federal ruling that found the EPA inappropriately issued several Small Refinery Exemptions to oil refineries.
It’s the latest development in a long-running saga where Trump and his administration has repeatedly undercut past promises to support the biofuels industry. Trump’s EPA has handed out a record number of waivers to allow oil companies to exempt ethanol from their product, despite the Renewable Fuel Standard’s mandate, including many large refineries that don’t really qualify for the economic hardship exemption. The decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated three of those waivers, but news reports this week said Trump was reversing course and would try to overturn that.
“This blindsided us,” Ernst said in response to a question about the news at a town hall forum in Jefferson, Iowa.
The senator noted she had spoken briefly with Trump today, and she confirmed that his administration planned to appeal.
“What happened, the way I understand it, was Ted Cruz went to the White House,” Ernst explained. “Somehow he ended up bending Attorney General Barr’s ear on this. And the purpose of their visit was immigration, it wasn’t supposed to be renewable fuels. So, he ended up talking to A.G. Barr and convincing him they needed to go back.”
Ernst said she had been playing phone tag with Trump since last night, and talked with him earlier today while he was in a helicopter touring tornado damage in Tennessee. It was a quick conversation, Ernst said, and he planned to call her back later today.
“He said they are getting pressure from folks like Ted Cruz, other representatives in those oil states, because they’re afraid that the small refineries are going to shut down now,” Ernst said. “Well, we are afraid, and we know, that those that are producing biofuels, our ethanol producers, they already saw this last summer. So, that’s what we’re communicating to the president.”
While Trump was moving forward with an appeal, which Ernst believed they had until Monday to file, Ernst said the President tried to downplay the impact.
“They do plan to proceed with the appeal. I’ve looked at the statistics … It’s only a fraction, a very, very small percentage of appeals that will actually be taken up and reconsidered,” Ernst said. “And out of those that are reconsidered, most of them will not be overturned. So, the President, his point to me was, Joni, it’s not going to be overturned. It’s not going to be overturned. And this way, let Ted Cruz and the oil buddies feel good about what they are doing, but he said it’s not going to be overturned.”
As Bloomberg News has reported, Trump’s administration had planned on accepting the court decision as recently as last week. But the matter of biofuels during the Trump presidency has been beset by constant lobbying efforts by oil state senators, often causing Trump to go back on his previous word or with deals he had struck with Iowa leaders.
“I hope to God it’s not overturned,” Ernst said. “The oil industry, they’re not even sneaky about what they’re trying to do. I’ve always said this …. when we score a win, we still have to be vigilant. Because they’re always going to be lurking around, ready to throw something in the President’s ear, mislead him. I think that’s what they’ve done: mislead him.”
by Pat Rynard