COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (DTN) -- On the same day he directed the EPA to complete a rule to allow year-round E15 sales, President Donald Trump used the issue to stump for Republicans in Iowa and Nebraska by hitting Democrats for their seeming lack of support for ethanol, during a political rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Speaking to a predominantly Nebraska audience, Trump said the move to allow year-round E15 is another promise kept.
"I kept major promises to the people of Iowa and Nebraska," he said to the crowd of about 9,000.
"I love Nebraska," he said, followed by chants of "Go Big Red."
"Before I came, my staff said, 'sir, you're speaking in Iowa, but there may be a few people coming from Nebraska.' There are a lot of farmers in both, right?
"My administration is protecting ethanol. Today we are unleashing the power of E15 to fuel our country all year long. If the Democrats gain power they will end ethanol."
The E15 announcement comes just ahead of the midterm elections and perhaps shores up a rural Republican base facing trade and other agricultural economic concerns.
Trump endorsed a number of Republican lawmakers on hand at Tuesday's rally, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Iowa Reps. David Young, Rod Blum and Steve King, Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and Nebraska's Don Bacon, who is running for the United States House of Representatives.
EPA did not respond to questions from DTN on Tuesday about when the agency would initiate a rule proposal on E15, which is a fuel with 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline.
While E15 is considered a victory for agriculture, there are ongoing concerns about EPA's recent unprecedented approval of small refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard. By EPA's own estimates, the 49 waivers granted in 2016 and 2017 amounted to 2.25 billion gallons of biofuels not blended.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told DTN on Tuesday that based on discussions he's had with EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the agency will take a different approach to waivers.
"I felt sympathy from Wheeler," Grassley said. "He's going to be more careful in the granting of waivers. He felt there's ways to be more careful than in the past."
Ethanol industry leaders said on Tuesday they think the E15 announcement by EPA could come in days or weeks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump met with several Midwest Republican lawmakers, including Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Grassley, as well South Dakota Sen. John Thune, and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, as well as Young, whose district is where Trump held the rally.
While there is some debate about how much year-round E15 will benefit corn farmers, agriculture and ethanol groups alike celebrated what may have seemed like a national holiday.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the administration's actions were long overdue.
"Year-round sale of E15 will increase demand for corn, which is obviously good for growers," he said. "This has been a years-long fight and is another victory for our farm and rural economies."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the decision was a "win" for American farmers.
"After years of declining farm income, opening up markets to additional fuel choices helps create new demand that farmers desperately need," he said in a statement.
"As our country has worked on breaking our dependency on foreign oil, our farmers have played a major role in helping us become more energy independent."
Randy Gard, Nebraska Ethanol Board petroleum representative and chief operations officer for Bosselman Enterprises, said in a statement he expects to see wide E15 adoption.
"We should see an increase in fuel retailers across the state and nation offering E15 when the red tape and regulatory barriers are removed," he said.
"The waiver takes the perceived risk out of the market for fuel retailers, which will stimulate ethanol markets. E15 gives consumers another renewable, low-cost option at the pump."
American Petroleum Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Sommers said his industry will consider legal action.
"EPA has previously stated that it does not have the legal authority to grant the E15 waiver, and we agree with that assessment," Sommers said. "The industry plans to aggressively pursue all available legal remedies against this waiver."
Also during the rally, Trump took the occasion to laud the trade deals his administration has completed and hinted at others yet to come.
"We had another historic victory by replacing the job-killing NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) with the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA)," Trump said. "If Democrats take control they will take away our amazing progress. We've never had it like it is now.
"We have a new fair trade deal with South Korea. The previous deal was so bad. Under the guise of massive tariffs, they said, let's do it. We've opened it up for farmers and manufacturers. We're going to open up Japan for trade and the European Union. They (EU) are brutal. But that's because they've had their way. America is not being taken advantage of anymore."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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