Monday, October 23, 2017

Trump kills EPA plan to reduce biofuel mandate

After intense pressure from Corn Belt lawmakers such as Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, the Trump administration has backed down on efforts to reduce mandatory biofuel percentages in the nation's gasoline supply. Reducing biofuel requirements (which mostly means ethanol) in the Renewable Fuel Standard would hurt corn-producing states, which inspired a bipartisan uproar: Grassley threatened to hold up EPA nominees, and Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois did more than threaten, citing the RFS as one of the reasons she placed a hold on two key nominations.

"Trump told Pruitt in a phone call late last week he needs to keep Grassley happy, according to multiple people familiar with the call," Amy Harder reports for Axios. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt promptly wrote a detailed letter to the main Congressional dissenters, assuring them that he won't alter the biofuels mandate.

Why the about-face? Harder speculates that, with higher-priority issues like tax reform and health care on the docket, Trump "needs GOP support everywhere he can get it." Also, as we reported last week, Grassley is the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and could hit Trump where it hurts by holding up judicial nominees. He also has a hand in investigating Russia's role in Trump's election.

The petrochemicals industry, which was the driving force behind the proposed alterations, was not happy. Axios reports that Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers said Oct. 20, "It's frankly been very embarrassing to watch the administration bend its knee to its will to King Corn and these handful of senators."

By Nov. 30, the EPA must issue quotas for how much biofuel that refineries must blend into the gasoline supply. The oil-refining industry will probably attempt to change Pruitt's mind before then, Harder reports.

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