President Donald Trump and the (currently) poll-leading Democrat in the campaign to unseat him, Joe Biden, this week visited Iowa on the same day and touched on the same subject: agriculture.
The president visited a Council Bluffs ethanol plant to tout his administration’s recent decision authorizing sale and mandating production of E-15 gasoline (blended with 15% ethanol, a corn-based product) year-round.
Previously, E-15 was a seasonal product, restricted by previous administrations from being sold during summer months due to environmental concerns. Ethanol is made from corn, and corn growers and their federal lawmakers have pushed hard to retain government support for ethanol, including year-round E-15.
“You were taken advantage of by stupidity, by incompetence, by people who don’t care,” Trump told his audience Wednesday. “You were treated very badly, but you aren’t being treated badly anymore.”
Or are we?
While Trump touts ethanol in our corn-producing state, back in Washington his Environmental Protection Agency continues to issue waivers allowing refineries to not comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard, which includes ethanol. (The RFS was enacted in 2005, during the presidential administration of George W. Bush, who, by the way, was a Republican from an oil state.)
Ten U.S. senators this week sent Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator, a letter calling on him to stop issuing these so-called “hardship” waivers, which were created to give relief to small refineries. However, the EPA is apparently stretching definition of “small,” but it’s hard to know for sure. The waivers are issued in secret.
“EPA’s continued manipulation and misuse of the small refiner waiver authority is undermining the integrity of the RFS and disadvantaging farmers,” the senators stated in their letter. “Rather than follow congressional intent in the Renewable Fuel Standard and follow through on the promises made to rural America, the EPA and the Administration are providing waivers, in secret, to help some of the largest oil companies and refiners evade their compliance obligations under the Clean Air Act.”
The authors of that letter were all Democrats — they included Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin, of Illinois, and Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin — but several ag-state Republicans, including Iowans Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, have pushed hard on this issue as well.
What good is a Renewable Fuel Standard if the administration won’t enforce it? Handing out waivers to refineries like candy to kids on Halloween shows how the Trump administration wants it both ways. It allows the president to claim support for farmers and the biofuels industry while telling the administration’s friends in the oil industry, “never mind.”
Playing to one’s audience is a bipartisan skill. For his part, during his campaign stops in Iowa, Biden talked about the struggles of farmers, especially the impact of higher tariffs. He has promised to support biofuels. However, that stance appears to run counter to his actions.
In 2014, as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden took a leading role in the administration’s move to drastically cut the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard, including ethanol. It was viewed as an attempt to give a break to East Coast refineries.
Now, as Jarrett Renshaw, of Reuters news agency, observed this week, “Joe Biden may have an ethanol problem.”
Trump may wind up with an ethanol problem, too. His self-congratulations this week notwithstanding, if his EPA keeps issuing secret waivers and not enforcing the Renewable Fuel Standard, voters in Iowa and other corn-producing states could start noting the difference between words and actions.