Theresa Greenfield challenged Sen. Joni Ernst Monday night, during the first debate between the U.S. Senate candidates, to explain why Iowans should trust her as an effective leader for farmers and the ethanol industry given her support for an Environmental Protection Agency and presidential administration that have taken few meaningful steps to support the struggling industry.
Ernst, who fancies herself a champion for the biofuels industry, scoffed at Greenfield’s suggestion she “sold out farmers for her Big Oil donors.”
“Sen. Joni Ernst, I’ll tell you what, she voted for a fossil fuel lobbyist to head the EPA and they have gutted our ethanol industry with 85 [Renewable Fuel Standard] waivers, reducing our demand [for ethanol] by about 4 billion gallons,” Greenfield said, referring to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and his predecessor Scott Pruitt. “Heck, a bushel of corn right now is about $3.30 — that’s going out of business prices.”
Ernst in January told reporters she would ask President Trump to “fire” Wheeler if he did not comply with the RFS rule to blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply. Ernst has not followed through on that promise, despite warning signs from the Renewable Fuels Association and other pro-ethanol groups that “the EPA has made little progress” on the RFS blending requirement.
But Greenfield is not the only one calling attention to Ernst’s record and the pattern of unfulfilled promises doled out by President Trump.
In light of a Sept. 24 Reuters article detailing the steps Trump is taking to “shore up support in the U.S. Farm Belt,” the Rural America 2020 Iowa Steering Committee sent a letter to Sens. Ernst and Chuck Grassley urging them to “make public a secret list of promises on federal ethanol policy that the Trump Administration made to them at the White House almost exactly one year ago.”
The meeting in question was held Sept. 12, 2019, at the White House with President Trump, Gov. Kim Reynolds, Ernst, Grassley and other senators from Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota. “A list of policy goals” — first reported by Reuters and reviewed by Starting Line — was discussed at the meeting more than a year ago. Until now, as Trump and Ernst face the possibility of losing Iowa, little progress has been made on the list of 11 objectives related to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The Iowa Steering Committee, comprised of eight farmers, is calling on Ernst and Grassley to “make his promises public.”
“On September 12th, 2019 the President promised you in writing that he would add 500 million gallons of ethanol and 500 million gallons of advanced biofuels to the 2020 supplemental blending rule. While this market access would have been a welcome buffer during turbulent times, it did not happen,” the letter states.
“He also promised to add 250 million gallons of biodiesel to the 2021 blending volumes, however, we are still waiting. Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) are typically released in the summer to be finalized in November, but nothing has been presented to producers and the public for 2021. It is now harvesting season and the end of 2020 is around the corner, yet farmers and biofuel producers have little insight on how to plan for the 2021 planning season,” the farmers said.
Ernst has championed the administration’s commitment two years ago, during an event in Council Bluffs, to sell E15 year-round. But as the letter points out, corn-based ethanol is sold at only 2,000 of the country’s 152,000 gas stations. Biofuels advocates hope the administration’s recent decision to allow the sale of E15 (gasoline blended with 15% ethanol) through existing gas pumps will boost biofuel sales.
The senator also has praised Trump and Administrator Wheeler for denying so-called “gap year” waivers for oil companies attempting to skirt regulations in the Renewable Fuel Standard, yet the administration already has approved an unprecedented 85 waivers for oil companies, including industry giants Chevron and Exxon.
“Over a year after receiving a list of promises from the White House — a ’13-point plan’ as Senator Grassley referred to it — neither Ernst nor Grassley has released the plan so that Iowans can judge for themselves,” said Doug Thompson, a farmer from Kanawha, in a statement. “Has the President broken even more promises than we know? Have our Senators spent the last year getting conned by the President or are they all just conning Iowa farmers? We need to see this list immediately to find out.”
Rural America 2020 has placed billboards across the state “decrying Trump’s broken ethanol promises” and is recording radio ads with farmers demanding the list of promises be released.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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