Trump orders EPA to back off RFS changes, report says

Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

PELLA — Amid rising pressure from Midwest politicians, President Donald Trump has told the Environmental Protection Agency to back off potential cuts in renewable fuel volumes, according to national reports.

Bloomberg, citing sources it didn’t identify, and several agricultural publications said EPA was told to abandon the possibility of lowering biodiesel requirements and counting ethanol exports toward the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Renewable fuels leaders said those proposed changes to the RFS would have a devastating impact on the industry and, by extension, Iowa’s agricultural economy.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke by phone with Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Reynolds said she was given no promises, but nonetheless was encouraged by the discussions.

“I had a very productive call with President Trump. Both of them (Trump and Pruitt) affirmed to me their continued commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Reynolds said.

Midwest politicians, led by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been ratcheting up the pressure on the administration over the issue, frequently reminding the White House that Trump had pledged support for the RFS during the 2016 campaign. Grassley, one of the most senior lawmakers in the Senate, is a longtime promoter of renewable fuels.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who holds a key position on a Senate committee overseeing nominees to the EPA, said Wednesday she wanted assurances the “spirit” and letter of the RFS would be followed.

“We just need very clear answers on where they are with the RFS, and if we don’t receive those assurances, then I’m not likely to move anybody ahead that could undo the RFS,” Ernst said Wednesday.

Ernst is a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, where Republicans hold an 11-10 edge.

On Wednesday, the committee postponed consideration of Trump appointee William Wehrum to head the EPA’s office of air and radiation, which oversees the RFS. The postponement came after Ernst had expressed reservations about Wehrum.

Midwest lawmakers met Tuesday with Pruitt to push for the RFS, and before that session Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said administration nominees to the EPA could be at stake.

The EPA did not respond directly to a request for comment about the Bloomberg report, but a spokesperson said in an email Pruitt “doesn’t want to take any steps to undermine the objectives in the statute of the RFS. We continue to work with RFS stakeholders to ensure EPA is applying the statute in a meaningful way, as Congress intended.”

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said after Wednesday’s press conference if the Bloomberg report is accurate, it’s good news for the renewable fuels industry and Iowa.

He added, however, advocates will continue to press the issue until the administration publishes official rules.

“If it’s true, that’s great,” Shaw said. “If these reports are accurate, then we’re kind of at Step 2, which is (Trump) not just having it on his radar but making the decision to tell the EPA to get back on track. But we are not going to take anything for granted. We’re not going to let up our pressure until we see final rules and official documents.”