PELLA — Amid increasing appeals and pressure from Iowa’s top Republicans, President Donald Trump has told his administration’s Environmental Protection Agency to back off potential cuts to renewable fuel volumes, the Bloomberg news service reported Wednesday.
Bloomberg, citing sources it didn’t identify, said the EPA was directed to abandon the possibility it had raised earlier of lowering biodiesel requirements and counting ethanol exports toward meting the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Renewable fuels leaders said those proposed rule changes would have a devastating impact on the industry and, by extension, Iowa’s agricultural economy.
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke by phone with fellow Republicans Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Reynolds said she was given no promises on specific elements of the renewable fuels mandate, but nonetheless was encouraged by the discussions.
“I had a very productive call with President Trump. Both of them affirmed to me their continued commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Reynolds said.
Midwest politicians, led by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been ratcheting up the pressure on the administration over the issue, frequently reminding the White House that Trump had pledged support for the fuel standard during the 2016 campaign.
Grassley, one of the most senior lawmakers in the Senate, is a longtime promoter of renewable fuels. He was so irked over the possible EPA rollback that he had suggested the Senate bottle up any more of Trump’s nominees for EPA positions until the dispute was settled in favor of renewable fuels instead of big oil.
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U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who holds a key position on a Senate committee overseeing nominees to the EPA, said Wednesday she wanted assurances that the “spirit” and letter of the fuel standard law would be followed. She already had postponed one nominee for the EPA.
“We just need very clear answers on where they are with the RFS, and if we don’t receive those assurances, then I’m not likely to move anybody ahead that could undo the RFS,” she said Wednesday.
Ernst is a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, where the GOP holds an 11-10 edge.
On Wednesday, the committee postponed consideration of Trump appointee William Wehrum to head the EPA’s office of air and radiation, which oversees the fuel standard rules. The delay came after Ernst had expressed reservations about Wehrum.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said Wednesday after a news conference with Reynolds that if the Bloomberg report was accurate, it’s good news for the renewable fuels industry and Iowa.
He added, however, that advocates will continue to press the issue until the administration publishes official rules.
“If it’s true, that’s great,” Shaw said. “If these reports are accurate, then we’re kind of at Step 2, which is (Trump) not just having it on his radar but making the decision to tell the EPA to get back on track. But we are not going to take anything for granted. We’re not going to let up our pressure until we see final rules and official documents.”
When asked for Reynolds’ reaction to the Bloomberg report, a spokeswoman said the governor was encouraged by her conversation with Trump and will continue working on the renewable fuels issue.
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The criticisms from farm-state lawmakers came after the EPA issued a call for public comment on potential reductions in biodiesel and advanced biofuel quotas.
Separately, EPA staff were considering a proposal from some refiners to allow ethanol exports to count toward the domestic mandate. That change is opposed by the ethanol industry, but supported by refiners who argue it would make meeting the quotas easier and cheaper.
However, even oil interests acknowledged Wednesday that Iowa’s tactics were prevailing.
“A handful of senators completely cornmailed the administration by threatening to hold nominees hostage until they get their way,” Stephen Brown, the head of federal affairs for refiner Andeaver, wrote in an email. “Faced with tactics that would have made Don Corleone blush, the administration essentially had no choice but to relent.”
The Bloomberg news service contributed to this report.