Government

Sen. Joni Ernst tells EPA director to 'trash' small refinery waivers

52 under review would have 'devastating' effect on renewable fuels in Iowa

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks May 6 at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, she
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks May 6 at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, she said she told the Environmental Protection Agency administrator that 52 requests for waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard should be “thrown in the garbage can.” Oil refineries are seeking the waivers from the RFS, which requires gasoline sold in the United States contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. (Caroline Brehman/pool photo via AP)

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst has told the EPA administrator to “just trash” 52 small refinery waivers under consideration by the agency because they could have a devastating impact on Iowa’s renewable fuels industry.

Although Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is upholding the letter of the law, Ernst said allowing petroleum refiners to be exempted from the Renewable Fuel Standard would not be in the spirit of the law.

“When I cornered Wheeler (Wednesday), I said those petitions, you shouldn’t even be taking petitions” from the oil refiners, Ernst told reporters Thursday. “I used the exact words: I said they should be thrown in the garbage can.”

Ernst, who has been a supporter of Iowa’s biofuels industry and a vocal critic of the waivers that exempt refineries from RFS requirements, has been challenged to call for Wheeler’s resignation by Theresa Greenfield, her Democratic opponent in the fall election.

“I have called months and months ago. I called on him to resign if he wasn’t upholding the RFS,” Ernst said.

The RFS requires transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels,

In October 2019, Ernst called for the EPA to change its policy to fulfill a promise made by President Donald Trump to increase the amount of ethanol and biodiesel used in gasoline.

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“Let’s make sure this gets done and, if not, we’re going back to the president and say, ‘Andrew Wheeler is the one who is not following through with your commitment to farmers — you need to get rid of him,’” Ernst said last fall.

The Greenfield campaign called that a “so-far empty threat.”

Ernst said that as much as she hates to admit it, Wheeler is following the law, “but he’s really walking a tightrope with the spirit of the law.”

Ernst expects the matter to end up in court.

“In the meantime, we’re just going to have a big legal mess on our hands,” Ernst said. “But my simple solution, throw them away.”

According to the Greenfield campaign, about 43,000 people in Iowa making a living in some way connected to ethanol. Due in part to less travel during the coronavirus pandemic, demand for ethanol has dropped and production is down by about 50 percent.

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

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