Government

President, re-election campaign send mixed messages on ethanol

Trump met with oil state senators Thursday; Sen. Joni Ernst expects he will honor ethanol commitment

Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during a town hall with employees at the DuPont Industrial Biosciences facility Aug. 20 in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during a town hall with employees at the DuPont Industrial Biosciences facility Aug. 20 in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

While Sen. Joni Ernst was expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will honor his commitment to Iowa farmers and ethanol, the president’s campaign was touting the benefits of fossil fuel to Iowa.

“We are very hopeful” the administration will find a solution to problems caused by the Environmental Protection Agency approving 31 waivers reducing the amount of ethanol petroleum refiners must blend with gasoline, the Iowa Republican said Thursday morning.

At the same time, Ernst was telling Iowa reporters that Iowa “is certainly one of the leaders in clean-energy efforts” because of solar, wind and biofuels, the Trump re-election campaign was ripping Democrats for their “disdain” for fossil fuels.

“Democrats embrace the Green New Deal and vow to eliminate all fossil fuels,” the Trump campaign warned in a news release. Democrats’ dislike of fossil fuels “will destroy Iowa’s economy.”

Based on her conversations with the president, Ernst said she is confident he will deliver a solution to increase the use of corn-based ethanol.

However, Ernst acknowledged that not everyone in his administration shares the president’s commitment to ethanol.

“While the president, I think his intentions are wonderful in supporting our farmers, we have seen EPA throw us under the bus before,” she said. “So I need to see (the agreement) in writing before we are out there applauding it.”

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Trump on Thursday met with senators from U.S. oil states, including Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who said the president was engaged on the issue that has pitted Big Oil and Big Corn against each other.

The oil industry is opposed to the Trump administration’s tentative plan to boost annual ethanol usage mandates.

Trump put forward the plan after a flurry of meetings in recent days with biofuels and oil refining advocates where he tested ideas to compensate the corn industry, a crucial political constituency, for his administration’s decision in August to exempt 31 oil refineries from their blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

In Thursday’s meeting, senators, including Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, were expected to make the case that Trump’s proposed plan could backfire by putting refineries out of business and killing jobs in key 2020 battleground states, one source familiar with the matter said.

“Just spoke with @realDonaldTrump on the Renewable Fuel Standard — the president is very engaged on the issue, and feels as if we can work toward a solution which protects jobs,” Cassidy wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s outreach reflects the difficulty he has had in appeasing both the oil and corn industries, which have clashed for years over U.S. biofuels policy.

“The president is ready to get a decision and move forward. We hope that could happen as of this afternoon,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters earlier Thursday.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a biofuels advocate, tweeted at Trump on Thursday, saying farmers were looking forward to good news on the package.

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The renewable fuels industry in Iowa accounted for more than $5 billion, or about 3 percent, of the state’s economy, generated $2.5 billion in income for Iowans and supported more than 48,000 jobs, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. The industry produced 4.35 billion gallons of ethanol and 365 million gallons of biodiesel.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Reuters contributed to this story

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