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Amy Klobuchar: Trump treating farmers like 'bargaining chips'

Democratic presidential hopeful: President's backing of oil waivers has 'gut punched' rural America

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (middle), a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, is joined at a Tuesday news conference near the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines by Pam Johnson, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association, and Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and U.S. secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration. They discussed how the Trump administration’s oil refinery waivers have undercut Iowa’s corn-derived ethanol industry. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (middle), a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, is joined at a Tuesday news conference near the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines by Pam Johnson, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association, and Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and U.S. secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration. They discussed how the Trump administration’s oil refinery waivers have undercut Iowa’s corn-derived ethanol industry. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said rural Americans were “gut punched” by the Trump administration’s decision to favor oil over ethanol by granting 31 refinery waivers, and Democrats need to remind voters of the GOP president’s broken promises heading into the 2020 election.

“This is not only an Iowa issue,” said Klobuchar, who is one of nearly two dozen candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. “It’s broken promises, and that’s the claim we have to make.”

The Minnesota Democrat was joined for a Tuesday news conference decrying the oil refinery waivers by Tom Vilsack, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Iowa governor, and Pam Johnson, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association from northern Iowa who has endorsed Klobuchar.

President Donald Trump told Iowans “he would stand up for rural America,” that every day as president he would “never stop fighting for farmers,” Klobuchar said. But then he “welshed” on his promise and “folded to Big Oil” by granting waivers that are “truly unprecedented” in displacing billions of gallons of biofuels, she said.

Trump’s use of waivers like “a sledgehammer” came at a time when farmers already were dealing with low commodity prices, weather disasters and international trade and tariff wars “where he is literally treating these farmers like bargaining chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”

Farmers are livid, says former corn growers president

Johnson said farmers are “livid” after it was revealed earlier this month that Trump had intervened on behalf of the oil industry over corn growers when his administration granted 31 waivers to small refineries — exempting them from complying with the nation’s biofuel law. That came a short time after Trump came to Iowa to back year-round E15 sales and pledge his support for rural Iowans.

“It was really actually quite shocking that we were suddenly gut punched by this administration,” said Klobuchar, who noted that whatever benefit was derived by the E15 change was significantly offset by the small-refinery waivers that cut into ethanol production and threatened the industry’s viability.

“This has to stop,” Johnson added. “We need to elect someone to the presidency who can actually solve problems instead of creating them.”

Vilsack: Waivers were to be used sparingly

Vilsack, who served as former President Barack Obama’s ag secretary from 2009 to 2017, said the EPA waivers were intended to be used sparingly to help small oil refineries get through tough economic times but now virtually any request is being granted and the effect has overwhelmed the ethanol industry’s capacity to grow.

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“Oil companies have had a long-term, consistent attack on the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Vilsack noted, and they have found a willing ally in Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s not a shell game here. You’ve got to be upfront and straight with folks. You’re either for this or you’re not.”

Earlier Tuesday, Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she thinks a balance can be achieved that meets the federally mandated 15 billion gallons of ethanol under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard and allows the EPA to grant waivers to distressed oil refineries but also reallocates the blending requirements to other, larger refineries so ethanol and biofuel production is not undercut.

However, Vilsack was skeptical, saying changes likely would be required to reallocate fuels so big oil companies would blend more ethanol.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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