American farmers have been left to wonder for the past several months, exactly what was going on behind closed doors at the EPA when it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The overarching question being asked by many: Is President Donald Trump making a calculated political decision to freeze all EPA action on all things RFS until after the November election? Including pending small-refinery exemption requests and the release of a 2021 volumes proposal.
Maybe that calculus shifted a bit on Tuesday, when a federal lawmaker from Iowa put Trump on the biofuels hotseat during his stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Below is a transcript from Trump's exchange with Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst during a roundtable, provided by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association:
Ernst: "One thing that would be helpful, of course, with the impact to the ag economy, the loss of so many crops, is our farmers would love to know that with these gap-year waivers that the oil refineries are submitting to the EPA, that we just dispense of those; we not allow them to move forward. Some of these waivers would apply to years -- nine years ago, eight years ago. Our farmers just really need some help this year obviously with the crop damage, and that would be a great step forward."
Trump: "So I approved the ethanol and we did the whole thing with the 12 months (E15) and all of the others. Let me ask you, how is ethanol doing with the markets? It's got to be a little bit tough, right?"
Ernst: "It is. It's very tough right now. And through COVID we saw a decrease in driving. And so the sales of ethanol have not been up where they should be. And we've seen that all across the industry, the impact. And now after the crop damage, it just sets our farmers even farther back."
Trump: "But they'll be ready when the market comes back? They'll be ready like never before."
Ernst: "Yes, they will. And what we need, just help from the EPA to follow the intent of the law with the Renewable Fuels Standard."
Trump: "Alright. We'll speak to them. I'll speak to them myself. I'll do it myself."
Despite a ruling by a federal court in January that essentially froze the agency's ability to either approve or reject requests for small-refinery exemptions, EPA has not indicated whether it will change the way it manages the exemptions program.
Perhaps worse in the eyes of ag and biofuels producers is the agency now is considering granting exemptions retroactively from as far back as 2011.
Add to it an agency that missed a June deadline for releasing 2021 proposed RFS volumes, and some believed the president may have been making a political calculation to leave it all alone until after the November election.
Both rural America and oil refining interests were strong Trump supporters in 2016 and considered to be equally as important in 2020.
So what does this all mean?
Taken at face value it appears Trump will be having a discussion with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler -- which has happened so many times in the past four years -- and farm country continues to wait.
Perhaps there will be another in what has been a long series of meetings at the White House involving industry officials and federal lawmakers.
What is certain is Trump has heard firsthand the plight of rural America when it comes to the RFS.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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