Guest Columnist

Scholten: Trump celebrates empty E15 Rule

J.D. Scholten on a field in Sioux City, Iowa, in April. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Joshua Lott.
J.D. Scholten on a field in Sioux City, Iowa, in April. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Joshua Lott.

“They stabbed us in the back,” said a board member of a local ethanol plant when telling me what President Donald Trump and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were doing to Iowa biofuels. He had watched as then-Secretary Scott Pruitt received a standing ovation at a Renewable Energy event in Iowa. Two weeks later, Pruitt began giving secret waivers to oil and gas companies. Favors that would allow Fortune 500 companies to avoid blending renewable biofuels into our nation’s auto fuel supply under waivers called “small refinery exemptions.”

These handouts to the oil industry have diverted two and a half billion gallons of gasoline from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending requirements. That’s more than two hundred million cars without access to a cleaner, more affordable fuel grown and produced in our backyard. The waivers are meant for small oil refineries experiencing undue economic hardship — instead they’re going to billion-dollar companies like Exxon and Chevron.

Trump’s secret waivers come at a huge expense for Iowans at a time when we’re facing hardships. Multiple years of low commodity prices, market consolidation, floods that halted rail shipments and left farmers dealing with wet grain, and unstable trade agreements that have major long-term consequences. These waivers add extreme pain in rural America and Trump’s EPA doesn’t plan on slowing down. Not a single waiver request has been denied and there’s no transparency to account for the unprecedented and reckless giveaways to oil and gas companies. The Trump administration recently approved sale of E15 all year-round — but does that mean in the face of these waivers? Not much when 40 waivers are sitting with EPA, waiting to see if they’ll be given the same favor as Exxon and Chevron.

Just five of Trump’s waivers drove down corn demand by 900 million bushels, costing farmers up to 40 cents a bushel. This abuse is threatening good jobs and biomanufacturing. That’s a massive trade-off to help oil companies, some of whom rake in $20 billion in profits each year. In comparison, 2018 was the first time in 20 years that U.S. ethanol use fell, and farm income is declining for yet another year. This bleak record is not what Trump promised to Iowa voters.

No honest person can answer where ethanol will be in 20 years. Which is why we need to fight for it today. Oil and gas companies have had the upper hand in energy markets for a century. They get billions in government subsidies and make tens of billions in profits each year. Clearly, they have the means to put the squeeze on elected officials.

So, with billions on top of billions, why are oil and gas companies lining up to demand Trump waivers? Because renewable ethanol is a promising option for a greener future and for cars and jets. The Navy knows this, that’s why they’ve participated in programs that invest in renewable energy for military operations. Consumers know it, ethanol saves us approximately a dollar per gallon when oil spikes overseas.

Rural communities need investments. But Trump treats economic drivers in our communities like an afterthought. Trump promised Iowans the farm and the kitchen sink, but his policies on trade, antitrust, family farms and biofuels are hurting farmers and our economy.

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Even a Texas Republican with deep roots in the oil industry knew it was important to diversify our fuel mix, grow renewable fuel, and create jobs across the Midwest. President Bush signed the RFS to give biofuels a path forward and make sure that oil and gas did not have total sovereignty over the energy market. Yet here they are controlling Trump when it comes to renewable biofuel blending. Just think, if Pepsi controlled Coke, how well would Coke do?

Unlike oil companies, rural communities aren’t asking for a handout or for favors. We’re asking for market access. We’re asking elected leaders to pay attention, and work with us on policies that will revitalize the quality of life in our rural communities. Demand that Trump end his reckless waivers, and let E15 do some good.

• J.D. Scholten is a former Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa’s 4th District.

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