Guest Columnist

Will Trump keep his promise to farmers?

Damaged corn is seen near Mount Vernon, Iowa on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. About a third of Iowa's corn crop was destroyed
Damaged corn is seen near Mount Vernon, Iowa on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. About a third of Iowa's corn crop was destroyed in the derecho that produced 140 mph winds throughout central Iowa on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

There is a myth in Washington, D.C., that Iowans are never satisfied with the Trump administration’s handling of biofuels policy. The truth couldn’t be simpler: Iowa’s farmers and biodiesel producers want Washington politicians to keep their promises on the Renewable Fuel Standard, and uphold the law.

It’s a shame that Iowa’s elected leaders have to complain so often and so loudly. But while President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to defend the RFS, his Environmental Protection Agency appointees have undercut the program time and time again. And when EPA breaks the president’s promises, it comes at the expense of biodiesel producers, soy farmers, and all Iowans.

Iowa produced 345 million gallons of biodiesel last year — tops in the nation. The state’s biodiesel producers annually purchase more than $840 million worth of Iowa materials like soybean oil and inedible corn oil from ethanol plants. Importantly, the industry supports 3,875 jobs across the state and more than $260 million in annual household income according to an ABF Economics study. In the current economic crisis, Iowa’s economy can’t afford to lose its biodiesel industry.

All of Iowa’s elected officials fight hard for policies that support the state’s farmers and biofuel producers. But Sen. Joni Ernst holds a special role as our champion on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It is literally her job to hold EPA’s feet to the fire on the RFS and demand fairness for Iowans. And she does the job well, though it certainly frustrates me that she has to constantly fight for something that is clearly the law of the land.

With each annual RFS rule since the start of the Trump administration, EPA has tried to block meaningful growth for biodiesel producers, allowing oil refiners to expand their markets instead. Ernst has consistently pushed EPA to set higher RFS volumes and allow more market space for Iowa biodiesel.

On top of flatlining the biofuel volumes, EPA is also entertaining requests to completely eliminate the RFS volumes for the year. Incredibly, refiners and several state governors who support them claim the RFS is the cause of the nation’s current economic crisis. Ernst called out the absurdity of this claim, pointing out that a further waiver of RFS volumes would do nothing more than cause unnecessary economic pain for Iowans.

As if blocking growth wasn’t enough, EPA is rolling back the annual RFS volumes by handing out individual waivers to every refiner — large and small — that asks. Over the past three years, EPA used small refinery exemptions to blow a gaping hole in the RFS and undercut demand for 550 million gallons of biodiesel — equal to almost a year-and-a-half of Iowa’s biodiesel production. In January, a federal court called EPA out for misusing the exemptions. But that did nothing to stop EPA. Rather than accept the court’s decision, EPA has moved forward with another deluge of new exemption petitions — many of them going back to the very first years of the RFS — that could completely unravel the RFS and destroy the market for all of Iowa’s biodiesel production this year.

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Ernst has stepped in once again. She is completely justified in holding up the promotion of EPA officials until the agency ends its abuse of the small refinery exemptions. That’s her job, and Iowans are known for standing behind elected officials who do a good job.

President Trump is risking the support of Iowans by allowing EPA to break his promises on the RFS. He shouldn’t risk their support for Joni Ernst by making her job of overseeing EPA impossible.

Dave Walton farms soybeans, corn and livestock in Wilton. He holds leadership positions with the National Biodiesel Board, Iowa Biodiesel Board and Iowa Soybean Association, among others.

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