Government

Ag leaders warn Trump to back biofuels

Iowa election outcome may 'hang in the balance'

Grain bins, pictured Aug. 12 two days after the derecho storm, are severely damaged on the Archer Daniels Midland facili
Grain bins, pictured Aug. 12 two days after the derecho storm, are severely damaged on the Archer Daniels Midland facility in Keystone. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Representatives of four influential agricultural interests Tuesday implored President Donald Trump to order his administration to make good on a promise to fully implement the federal Renewable Fuel Standard — warning his reelection prospects in Iowa “may hang in the balance.”

In their letter, Jim Greif, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Tim Bardole, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and Brad Wilson, chairman of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, thanked Trump for coming to see “firsthand the destruction wrought by a historic ‘derecho’ windstorm” that may have impacted up to 14 million acres of Iowa crops and for moving quickly to approve initial disaster aid.

“Iowans are tough and resilient, but the scope of destruction is hard to fathom,” they wrote. “Today’s action will assist countless Iowans to begin the long road back to normalcy.

“While we are appreciative of the disaster aid, rural Iowa will not complete the long road back to normal without robust and stable markets for our crops and biofuels,” the four added. “So we write today beseeching you to fulfill your promise to protect the RFS and to implement the program at statutory levels.”

According to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ disaster aid request, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture initially have projected farms in the 36 Iowa counties hardest hit by last week’s windstorm sustained at least $3.77 billion in damage to 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans.

That economic punch, along with “the loss of key export markets, abuse of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) refinery exemptions by the (Environmental Protection Agency), and the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 have combined to stretch rural Iowa to its limit,” the four Iowa ag leaders said in their letter.

Given that economic backdrop, Greif, Bardole, Shaw and Wilson say it is imperative for the president and his administration — most notably EPA Director Andrew Wheeler — to make good on last fall’s agreement that calls for blending 15 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel into other motor fuels. Since then, the EPA has issued rules that Iowa elected officials, corn growers and biofuels groups say will not fulfill the agreement reached with Trump.

“One senior White House official has even told us that the 15-billion-gallon conventional level for the RFS was ‘biblical’ to you,” the four wrote. “Yet, the fact of the matter is that the RFS has not actually been enforced at the statutory levels during the four years of your presidency.”

They charge the EPA has undermined the fuel rule by granting dozens and dozens of “illegal” refinery exemptions — destroying demand for more than 4 billion gallons of biofuels — and now is considering a plan to grant retroactive “hardship” exemptions for oil companies dating back as far as 2011.

“Mr. President, you have the power to immediately end the frustration of farmers related to biofuels and to remove all doubt of your commitment to the RFS,” according to the letter, which is similar to one issued last week when Vice President Mike Pence visited Iowa.

During a briefing Tuesday in Cedar Rapids by Iowa officials on the derecho storm impacts, GOP U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst — who also faces reelection in November — pressed Trump to have his administration “dispense” with the “gap-year waivers” being submitted to the EPA by oil refineries in a way that “we not allow them to move forward.”

In response, Trump told Ernst that “I approved the ethanol and we did the whole thing with the 12 months and all the others.” But she said farmers and Iowa’s biofuels industry need “help from the EPA to follow the intent” of the law.

“Alright. We’ll speak to them. I’ll speak to them myself. I’ll do it myself,” the president said.

After the exchange, Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson Jeremy Busch said in a statement that Ernst was using the occasion “to desperately try to cover up” her vote to confirm Wheeler as EPA head in the first place.

In their letter, the four ag leaders outlined what they believe the consequences will be if the president does not take more action to protect biofuels.

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“Make no mistake, we often hear from farmers: ‘If we can’t trust the Trump administration to do the right thing before the election, then why on Earth would we expect them to treat us fairly after the election?’ Many rural voters are waiting to see if you will uphold the RFS and your promise before the election. Iowa may very well hang in the balance,” the four leaders wrote.

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

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