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Grassley encouraged after ethanol meeting with Trump

Grassley encouraged after ethanol meeting with Trump

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Galva ethanol plant

The Trump administration is taking action to boost U.S. demand for corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel, as the president seeks to temper criticism from farmers and Midwest politicians before next year’s election. Shown above is Big River Resources ethanol plant in Galva on July 18. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley left an Oval Office meeting with Donald Trump on Tuesday encouraged that the Environmental Protection Agency understands the president intends to meet promised production targets for ethanol and other biofuels.

“I left the meeting satisfied that the president was saying the same thing — and Wheeler heard him say it — said we got to produce 15 billion gallons,” Grassley said Wednesday, referring to EPA Director Andrew Wheeler.

Grassley told reporters by phone that he’ll wait for the EPA’s next step before he’s satisfied the EPA will address its granting of waivers to refineries that he believes has reduced the amount of ethanol blended with conventional fuels from the 15 billion gallons a year required by law to slightly more than 13 billion gallons.

During the meeting between the president and another senator, who Grassley did not name, the Iowa Republican said he told Trump EPA action since the September meeting “leaves a lot of questions whether or not we’re going to get the 15 billion gallons that we said we were going to get.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard allows the EPA to provide waivers to small refineries that can demonstrate compliance would create economic hardships.

Between 2013 and 2015, the EPA granted no more than eight waivers in a year. It retroactively approved 19 waivers for 2016 and granted 35 waivers in 2017, which is equal to removing 1.82 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2017 alone.

The matter takes on growing urgency as another Iowa refinery has announced it will “pause production” and lay off 30 of its 70 employees at its Emmetsburg cellulosic ethanol plant in February.

“The bottom line is it’s very clear that biodiesel and ethanol are hurting,” Grassley said.

In his 15- to 20-minute meeting with Trump, Grassley said he told Wheeler it might not be Wheeler’s fault the RFS has not been implemented to the satisfaction of the ethanol industry, “but you got to realize farmers just don’t have confidence in EPA.”

“The way you put it down in the regulations, even though you say we’re going to get 15 billion gallons, nobody believes it,” Grassley said.

The EPA will have an opportunity to correct the situation after a public comment period ends Nov. 29.

“I’m sure all the comments, except for refineries, are going to reflect what I told you that we thought we had when we left the White House” after a September meeting, Grassley said. “But in my message, in a sense directly or indirectly to the president, is that this language has got to be changed in the regulation. That’s what it’s going to take to satisfy me.”

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