Government

Iowa Democrats join bipartisan calls for stronger federal ethanol mandate

Tom Vilsack faults EPA for granting too many waivers to oil companies

Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and federal agriculture secretary, speaks at a news conference in Des Moines on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Vilsack was joined by Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price and former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge to talk about the federal ethanol mandate. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and federal agriculture secretary, speaks at a news conference in Des Moines on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Vilsack was joined by Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price and former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge to talk about the federal ethanol mandate. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Iowa Democrats on Thursday renewed their criticism of President Donald Trump’s handling of the federal ethanol mandate, an issue that has generated bipartisan concern in the state that produces more corn than any other.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency late last week established the number of gallons of ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply over the next year. The numbers were essentially the same as the previous year.

Advocates for the ethanol industry and state and federal elected officials in Iowa expressed concern because, they said, the EPA continues to grant oil refineries too many waivers from the ethanol mandate, weakening its impact.

That compounds other problems facing Iowa corn farmers, including ongoing international trade conflicts and negotiations, Democrats said Thursday at a news conference.

“The reality is, at least at this point in time, the EPA is not willing to or not able to, for whatever reason because of the oil industry, they are continuing to grant these waivers,” said Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and federal agriculture secretary.

The news conference was hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party and the Democrat-led advocacy group Focus on Rural America.

But concerns with the Trump administration’s handling of the ethanol mandate are not exclusive to Iowa Democrats. Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds also have repeatedly said EPA issues too many ethanol waivers to oil refineries.

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“It’s unacceptable that EPA would set biofuel volumes below demand at a time when farmers, biofuels producers and agribusiness owners are forced to shed jobs and close plants,” Grassley said in a statement when the new ethanol mandate levels were announced. “I urge President Trump to compel EPA to reverse course and keep his word to the forgotten Americans who have faithfully stood with him.”

Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said he remains hopeful the Trump administration will hear the concerns of Iowa corn farmers and reduce the number of ethanol waivers. But if it does not change course, Democrats will highlight the issue during next year’s presidential campaign, he said.

“Hope springs eternal. And we are hopeful because honestly we can’t really wait until after the 2020 election.,” he said. “Farmers need help now. Rural communities need help now. We can’t wait another 18 months.

“But if this administration continues down this path, and if this administration continues to wage these trade wars and do these handouts for big oil on the backs of farmers and rural communities, then yes we are going to make it a campaign issue, and we’re going to make sure that voters know exactly who’s fighting for them and exactly who’s standing up for rural communities.”

• Comments: (563) 383-2492; erin.murphy@lee.net

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