After “playing footsie” with big oil companies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a “public relations problem” with Iowa ethanol industry leaders and farmers, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday.
“I trust the president of the United States,” Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters. “I don’t trust EPA.
“There’s a big public relations problem with the people in the ethanol industry, corn farmers and this senator about EPA keeping its word (after) playing footsie with big oil companies,” he said.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a reporter for Nexstar Media Group on Monday that he guarantees the changes the agency proposes making to a federal mandate called the Renewable Fuel Standard will ensure 15 billion gallons of ethanol are blended into the nation’s fuel supply — restoring demand that was lost when the administration granted waivers from the RFS to a number of refiners.
EPA has granted 85 small-refinery exemptions to the mandate, letting oil companies off the hook from using 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel since President Donald Trump has taken office.
The exemptions have killed demand for more than a billion bushels of corn used to make ethanol, industry officials say.
Farmers, agriculture groups and renewable fuels leaders said last week they were outraged that the EPA’s proposal didn’t reflect what the administration outlined earlier in the month. The EPA said it plans to use a three-year average to account for the reduction in demand for ethanol and biodiesel resulting from the waivers, using the number of gallons that the U.S. Department of Energy recommends waiving.
But the Trump administration had told farm groups it would use the average of the actual number of renewable fuel gallons that had been waived.
The difference between the two is significant: The energy department has recommended a three-year average of 770 million gallons of biofuels exemptions, while the EPA has actually granted an average of 1.4 billion gallons.
The waivers have resulted in nearly 30 U.S. ethanol and biodiesel plants closing either temporarily or permanently because of falling demand. Four are in Iowa.
Grassley said he hopes EPA officials will listen to comments from farmers and the renewable fuels industry and make changes that “show us, without a doubt, that it’s going to be 15 billion gallons.”
“Only time will tell,” Grassley said, adding that he’s unsure if Congress will extend tax credits designed to help the biodiesel industry.
At a Cabinet meeting Monday, Trump said his administration is getting the ethanol changes “ready to sign.”
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers “will be fine” with the ethanol changes “once they fully understand what you’ve done here” and “see it implemented.”
The EPA released details of its plan as part of a supplemental document to the 2020 biofuels requirement last week. A public hearing is scheduled Oct. 30 in Ypsilanti, Michigan.