Leading up to finalizing renewable volume obligations for the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed cutting corn ethanol's share to below the mandated 15 billion gallons.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others pushed back, asking President Donald Trump to leave that number alone. Whether the president actually ordered Pruitt to make the change or not is not known, but Grassley told agriculture journalists on Tuesday ahead of a scheduled meeting at the White House this morning, that Pruitt hasn't held up his end of the bargain dating back prior to his confirmation.
Grassley confirmed on Tuesday that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Pruitt, along with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., will be attending the White House meeting.
Prior to confirmation, Grassley said Pruitt promised to maintain the RFS. The same promise was restated during one of now many RFS meetings at the White House in the past year, with the president in attendance.
Though it was reported Trump may be ready to lay out a plan for the RFS going forward, Grassley said on Tuesday he won't know anything until after the meeting scheduled for 11:15 eastern time.
"We fought in November to get Pruitt overruled" on a then-proposed reduction in corn ethanol's 15-billion-gallon mandate, Grassley said. That meeting resulted in Pruitt holding to the corn ethanol mandate.
While Pruitt was making a promise to corn ethanol on one hand, Grassley said, he was granting numerous small refinery waivers to the RFS on the other -- essentially undermining the 15-billion-gallon mandate. What's more, the senator said Pruitt backed off a commitment he made during the confirmation process.
"Pruitt is breaking the president's promise, and he's also breaking his promise he made to me," Grassley said. "The waivers were never meant for billionaires."
In the past year it was reported at least some of the oil companies receiving waivers had profits north of $1 billion, essentially undermining the notion that a hardship existed worthy of waivers.
Many of the more than 40 waivers issued by EPA in 2016 and 2017 were made retroactively, though the agency is required to issue waivers ahead of releasing final RVO numbers each year.
"It was always made to be done on the front end," Grassley said. "I'm not going to be able to predict the outcome of the meeting. I plan to voice concerns with Trump and Pruitt."
Though Trump and Pruitt seemingly have been on opposite sides of the RFS issue, Grassley said the president can force the administrator's hand.
"The president can direct his people to do what his people can do under the law," Grassley said. "You'd like to blame the president for everything, but you would think Pruitt would have some respect for the president. Pruitt works for Trump."
Grassley said if nothing else, he wants to have assurances during what could be the final White House RFS meeting, that corn ethanol's 15-billion-gallon mandate is left in place.
"I hope the outcome is what we've been proposing and not harmful to ethanol," he said. "This should be the last meeting. Certainly in ethanol it is pretty important if we're going to continue investment."
Also on Tuesday, the American Soybean Association asked the president in a letter to allow for year-round E15 sales and to commit to RFS statutory levels for advanced biofuels. It's another issue Grassley said he plans to raise during the meeting.
"We urge you to follow through on the needed regulatory fix for higher blends and ensuring the volumes of renewable fuel as the solution to address farmer and refiner concerns without further undercutting the RFS, such as imposing a RIN (renewable identification numbers) cap, and causing additional harm to the farm economy," the letter states.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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