Iowa Republicans raise pressure over renewable fuel standard

Grassley suggests holding up Trump nominees to EPA if rules get relaxed

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Iowa’s top elected Republicans turned up the heat Tuesday on the Trump administration to prevent a rollback of Renewable Fuel Standard requirements, with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley suggesting the Senate could bottle up the president’s nominees to the Environmental Protection Agency if the agency doesn’t support agriculture interests in its policy.

Grassley and a handful of other farm state senators met Tuesday with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over his agency’s announcement that it might lower advanced biofuel volumes for 2018 and count ethanol exports toward meeting the renewable standard targets.

The EPA’s announcement has riled renewable fuels groups, and farm state politicians have raised their voices as well, arguing that such a move would betray a promise President Donald Trump made as a candidate in 2016.

Although Trump promised to support the standard — a key pledge to corn growers and biofuel producers in the Midwest — he has surrounded himself with men who have made ambiguous remarks on the standard our outright opposed it in the past, including Pruitt at the EPA, Rick Perry at the Energy Department and former regulatory adviser Carl Icahn, who is invested in oil refineries.

Separately, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday she would fly to Washington next week and meet with Pruitt and Vice President Mike Pence about the fuel standard.

The Republican governor also is scheduled to appear Wednesday at a news conference in Pella with executives from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association to decry the “threat of recent EPA proposals to Iowa jobs,” a news release said.

Grassley’s suggestion that nominations could be held up came before his meeting with Pruitt.

”I think there’s plenty of senators who would do that,” Grassley said during a weekly conference call with reporters.

Even after Tuesday’s meeting with Pruitt, Sen. Joni Ernst, also R-Iowa, still expressed concerns about the biofuels issue.

She said Pruitt told them he’s getting input from stakeholders, but she added, “it is evident that the ‘stakeholders’ he refers to are not the farmers and manufacturers across the state of Iowa.” She said Pruitt needs to live up to his promise not to undermine the standard.

Grassley issued a statement after the meeting, saying he had impressed upon Pruitt that supporting biofuels is “good policy” and what the president promised last year. Grassley said the message was “well received.”

On the conference call earlier, Grassley said he also met Monday with Pruitt, for lunch, where the biofuels issue was discussed. Grassley said he got the impression that Pruitt believes he can “thread the needle” and keep the president’s promises to the renewable fuels industry as well as meet the desires of refiners. Grassley said that’s an “impractical position.”

The two Iowa senators have continued to express confidence in Pruitt as EPA head, even as the fuel standard has been threatened. However, the idea that EPA nominees could be at stake as a result of the controversy raises the temperature.

Ernst is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over nominations to the EPA. Already, Ernst has expressed concerns over a Trump administration nominee, William Wehrum, to head the EPA’s office of air and radiation, which deals with the standard.

An Ernst representative, Leigh Claffey, said Ernst doesn’t believe she got straight answers from Wehrum and “would like more clarity” on how he would enforce the standard.

The EPA declined to comment Tuesday.

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