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Iowa biofuels leaders put pressure on Trump administration

'We're just never going to be able to let up,' governor says

From left, Monte Shaw of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Grant Kimberley of the Iowa Biodiesel Board and Craig Floss of the Iowa Corn Growers Association speak to reporters Wednesday during a news conference at the Iowa Corn Growers Association’s offices in Johnston. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
From left, Monte Shaw of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Grant Kimberley of the Iowa Biodiesel Board and Craig Floss of the Iowa Corn Growers Association speak to reporters Wednesday during a news conference at the Iowa Corn Growers Association’s offices in Johnston. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

JOHNSTON — With the clock ticking on making changes to a proposed federal renewable fuel rule, Iowa biofuels industry leaders turned up the pressure Wednesday on making the Trump administration live up to the president’s own promise.

The industry leaders say they expect President Donald Trump to honor the deal his office struck with them on the federal ethanol mandate, and to reject a proposal unveiled Tuesday by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency.

“No more Iowa nice,” said Iowa Corn Growers Association Chief Executive Office Craig Floss during a news conference Wednesday, in relaying a message given him by a farmer. “Now it’s Iowa pissed.”

After the EPA published it proposed rule Tuesday — unleashing withering criticism from farm country — the price of ethanol futures suffered its biggest loss in two months, and the market extended the losses again Wednesday.

“My personal perspective is that President Trump has lost support,” said Kelly Nieuwenhuis, president of the board for ethanol maker Siouxland Energy Cooperative near Sioux Center. The Siouxland plant halted production in September, one of several Midwest biofuels plants idled by a slack in demand from refiners.

Less than two weeks ago, the makers of corn- and soybean-based biofuels thought they finally had a deal capping three years worth of uncertainty over the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard — a law that requires a certain amount of biofuels be blended into the nation’s gasoline and diesel supply.

Farmers were incensed to learn that the Trump administration had been granting waivers to small oil refineries, allowing them out of the biofuels requirements.

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Reuters, citing three unnamed sources, reported in August that Trump personally gave the EPA the go-ahead to grant 31 exemptions.

Facing furious farmers, Trump announced he was directing his EPA to come up with a new regulation that would make up for the losses given under the waivers.

But when that rule was proposed this week, it did not include Trump’s promise — only language that the waived volumes would be estimated and not based on the waivers themselves.

Iowa industry leaders said the EPA proposal creates too much uncertainty, and made clear they expect the Trump administration to reject the proposal and adhere to the proposal presented to them earlier.

“We had a deal with the president. We stand by that deal with the president. And today we’re calling on the president to step in and get the EPA back online. Don’t let the EPA undermine your policy once again, Mr. President,” Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director Monte Shaw said. “I thought a deal was a deal. When Donald Trump makes a deal, isn’t it a deal?

Farmers who spoke at the news conference said uncertainty over the rule continues to threaten crop prices and, along with catastrophic weather and trade uncertainty, create serious financial concerns for farmers.

Trump carried Iowa by nearly 10 points in 2016, and some speakers questioned whether he could do that again.

“Pretty much everyone I talk to that’s involved in agriculture and the biofuels industry really lost trust and are really frustrated,” said Nieuwenhuis, who also sits on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and is a corn and soybean farmer near Primghar. He called the EPA proposal “pretty disgusting.”

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The EPA said it would accept public comments on the proposed rule until Nov. 29. For instructions on how to submit them, visit epa.gov/dockets/commenting-epa-dockets

In a separate interview Wednesday, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she could “understand completely the industry’s hesitation and concern” about the future of the fuel standard.

“We’re just never going to be able to let up,” she said.

Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.

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