Rural voters are growing tired of Donald Trump. Recently, the Iowa Poll put Vice President Biden one point ahead of President Trump and Iowa moved from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” on the Cook Political Report. Even Fox News polls show Trump and Biden in a close race.
What should truly concern Trump are Fox polls showing him a mere 9 points ahead of Biden among rural voters — a voting bloc Trump carried by almost 30 points in 2016.
Amid trade tariffs and biofuel letdowns Trump supporters stuck out their necks asking him to deliver on his promises. However, voters are now realizing they cannot trust the president to do the job.
The trials of the coronavirus pandemic may have been the last straw. The pandemic landed on shaky ground in rural America. Not only have these communities contracted over the past decade, the economies they rely on have lost trade deals, faced epic floods in 2018 and 2019, weathered 4 billion gallons worth of biofuel cuts, and once again are facing uncertainty regarding trade with China.
On top of these challenges, the pandemic sunk the transportation fuel market and disrupted food supply chains. Farmers, processing plants and ethanol facilities took huge hits.
In December the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that biofuel blending would meet the 15 billion gallon threshold mandated by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. It is an easy enough promise to keep, but also one that has proved difficult for the Trump administration. Repeatedly Trump and Administrator Andrew Wheeler have granted small refinery waivers for oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron. The waivers divert biofuels from processing, upending the annual volume obligations.
The easiest way Trump could win rural voters back would be to deny oil and gas waivers. In the last three years waivers to exempt oil and gas refineries from blending biofuels skyrocketed. From 2013 to 2015 the Obama Administration approved 23 waivers. In Trump’s first three years he did not deny a single waiver and in fact approved 85 waivers, until the program came under criticism. As a result, more than four billion gallons have biofuels have been derailed.
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Oil is once again $40 a barrel, right where it was pre-pandemic, and 150 ethanol plants are still struggling to bounce back and invest in their rural communities. Yet refineries have applied for 58 “gap-year” waivers that would retroactively qualify them for future exemptions. That is on top of 28 applications sitting on Wheeler’s desk for 2020 and 2021.
More favors for Big Oil equal more heartache for rural farmers, biofuel producers, and the rural economies they support. Trump must deny the waivers to help rural America. The question is whether he is willing to say no to Big Oil before November, or if he is waiting until after the election to give them everything and the kitchen sink.
His past actions suggest more big breaks for Big Oil at the expense of rural economies, biofuels workers and farmers. Rural Americans are right to be concerned. Regardless of who wins on November 3, Trump and Wheeler are bound to do all they can for Big Oil and grant those job killing waivers between then and the inauguration.
Patty Judge is a former Democratic lieutenant governor.