COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (DTN) -- President Donald Trump took a victory lap on the implementation of year-round E15 at an ethanol plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday. He also laid out before an invitation-only crowd of farmers and government dignitaries a litany of accomplishments he said he has made for agriculture.
The EPA finalized a rule on May 31 that opened the door for year-round sales of the 15% ethanol blend of gasoline, one day ahead of the start of the summer driving season.
On Tuesday at the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy ethanol plant, Trump called out the previous administration for not budging on E15.
"Under the previous administration, they rejected energy independence and rejected ethanol," Trump said. "They refused to do anything on year-round E15. How ridiculous was that? Not one person was able to explain to me why. I pledge to fight and we're winning these fights."
Trump pointed to the success of ethanol producers in building export markets.
"Now ethanol is playing a bigger part," he said. "Just remember the Democrats were opposed to this, folks."
American farmers have been at the center of a trade war with China, and there continues to be concern about how the inability to export to China will affect farm income. In recent years, farm incomes have continued to plunge.
"Past administrations did nothing while the farm income declined," Trump said. "We are turning it all around. Somebody had to do it. Nations around the world were ripping off the U.S. We're changing it all around. By the end of this year, farm incomes are projected to rise by $10 billion since my election. We will always defend our great American patriot farmers."
Trump also took the occasion to call on Congress to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
"The brand-new USMCA expands market access for agriculture products," he said. "You have to get out and push our Democrats to put it up. Go out and pass it. The Democrats need a victory. Put it up for a vote, let's get it signed. It's all ready."
Trump continued to call on farmers to be patriotic, pointing to farmers' role in founding the country.
"We know our nation was founded by farmers," he said. "Throughout history, farmers have always led the way. America's farmers are not just keeping a cherished legacy, you are the guardians of a way of life. You love this land because it's part of you. From generation to generation, you passed on a tradition of American grit."
Trump was joined by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
Green Plains Inc. CEO Todd Becker said he believes the administration's action to open the E15 market will begin to pay dividends soon.
"I think 2020 will be the year," he said. "We have thousands and thousands of stores that are going to be selling E15. We want to get to 10,000 stores. We think independent retailers are ready to go -- that's 37,000 stores right there."
Minden, Iowa, farmer Kevin Ross was called to the podium, taking the occasion to press the Trump administration to end the practice of granting small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
"Mr. President, you delivered on E15, but we have more work to do," Ross said. "Small-refinery waivers are undermining the RFS."
The Trump administration has issued more than 50 waivers totaling more than 2.6 billion gallons of ethanol equivalent gallons not blended in gasoline. The EPA has 39 applications pending.
Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, told DTN during an interview at the SIRE plant that he believes the EPA is considering the legal aspects, but also the political side of the waivers program.
"We really think there is no way they can continue to do what they are doing," Cooper said. "There have been multiple lawsuits filed to stop the madness. Politically, I think it's challenging to say with a straight face that a company like ExxonMobil or Chevron warrant an exemption. There is both a political and legal consideration being made at EPA, and we are hopeful it will lead to fewer exemptions being awarded."
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor told DTN her organization continues to seek more information on EPA's use of waivers.
"You know, we're not hearing very much on that either," she said. "We need more information out of EPA about who's applying, what the criteria are in terms of granting the waivers. There are 39 applications pending. You shouldn't have that this far into the Renewable Fuel Standard. So we still have a lot of unanswered questions. You've got both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill asking these questions as well. Hopefully, we'll get some answers soon."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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