Government

Iowa ethanol leaders uneasy over some nominations, but keep faith in Trump

Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry both have opposed the Renewable Fuel Standard

Buttons and signs supporting caucusing for ethanol and the renewable fuel standard at the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fue
Buttons and signs supporting caucusing for ethanol and the renewable fuel standard at the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Iowa, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

DES MOINES — Renewable fuel leaders in Iowa are uneasy with some of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominations for key positions in his administration, but are relying on assurances from the man himself.

Trump expressed support for renewable fuels — in particular, the federal mandate for corn-based ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply — during the presidential campaign.

But in the past week, Trump has said he’ll nominate two men who previously have not supported policies promoting renewable fuels to head two federal agencies that deal heavily with energy policy.

Trump said he will nominate Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, in 2013 opposed the Renewable Fuel Standard at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing ethanol damages vehicle systems and drives up food prices.

And Trump is expected to nominate Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. Perry, a former Texas governor who ran for president in 2012 and 2016, also has been critical of the ethanol mandate.

“An EPA administrator from Oklahoma with a long anti-RFS track record was obviously not on the top of our wish list,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “It would send a strong signal to rural America if a pro-RFS person filled one of the other EPA top leadership posts to provide some internal balance.”

Shaw and other renewable fuel leaders in Iowa, including Gov. Terry Branstad, said they take Trump at his word that his administration will support ethanol and other renewable fuels.

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Branstad said he received such an assurance from Trump during the president-elect’s recent victory tour event in Iowa, which came after the announcement of Pruitt as his choice to lead the EPA.

Pruitt “is from an oil state, so obviously that gives us a little concern,” Branstad said. “The first thing Trump told me is, ‘Don’t worry about him, he’s going to be for ethanol.’ I think that was a condition Trump laid out when he appointed him. Trump’s a pretty blunt guy, so that was reassuring to me and obviously to my son, who worked very hard on those issues.”

Eric Branstad, the governor’s son, spearheaded the advocacy group Iowa’s Renewable Future during the Iowa caucuses. The group pressed presidential candidates for and graded them on their positions on renewable fuel policy.

During the general election, Eric Branstad worked as the Trump campaign’s state director in Iowa. Trump said he would support the mandate as president.

He made the same pledge to Shaw’s group, Shaw said.

“President-elect Trump made a very detailed commitment to the RFS last January when he spoke at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit,” Shaw said. “He also mentioned his RFS support many times on the campaign trail leading up to Nov. 8. So we look forward to working with the incoming Trump administration to implement the RFS along the lines President-elect Trump embraced during the election.”

Delayne Johnson, chief executive officer of the Quad County Corn Processors in Galvia, hear those same campaign promises from candidate Trump, but wants to hear them again.

Johnson was hoping to hear Trump address ethanol and renewable fuels during that rally n Des Moines; but Trump didn’t mention them.

“I think those in my industry are just wanting to hear him restate those things,” Johnson said.

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Democrats criticized Trump’s selection of Pruitt, accusing him of being cozy with oil companies and pointing out his skepticism of scientists’ findings regarding climate change and humans’ role in exacerbating the issue.

“It’s clear by now that Donald Trump lied to voters about draining the swamp, and his selection of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA puts a giant oil rig right in the middle of it,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Eric Walker said in a statement. “By putting a puppet of ‘Big Oil’ in charge of the EPA, Trump shows he doesn’t think much of protecting the environment, combating climate change, or draining the swamp.”

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