Vice President Mike Pence claimed in Iowa last week that President Trump had fulfilled his promises to Iowa farmers and ethanol producers. It’s not true and he knew that, because Iowa farmers told him so.
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) put out a fact check Friday on the claims Pence made during his speech in Iowa the day before. Only one of his three statements related to the administration’s fulfillment of promises about ethanol was deemed “true.”
Pence tried to claim that the Trump administration had fulfilled its promise to ensure that 15 billion gallons of ethanol would be blended into the fuel supply in 2020, as required by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS):
“And with the strong leadership of Senator Joni Ernst, and with a strong and principled and unwavering conservative leadership of Senator Chuck Grassley, this president announced an agreement on renewable fuel standards that ensures a 15 billion gallon ethanol will be blended into the fuel supply in 2020,” Pence said.
That’s not just a grammatically challenged fib, it’s a whopper. The Trump administration has never in the past four years enforced the 15-billion-gallon standard, IRFA says. (The Obama administration failed on that point in its last year, as well.) The Trump administration has put rules for the RFS on hold, apparently until after the election, for the volume of renewable fuel that will have to be blended after 2020.
And worse, the Environmental Protection Agency has been further undermining the standard by considering waivers for dozens of petroleum refineries that don’t want to blend ethanol as required. And both Grassley and Ernst have complained about that.
The administration did, in fact, as Pence stated, fulfill the president’s promise to legalize the sale of 15% ethanol fuel year-around. Ethanol leaders say that change was significant and appreciated, but it’s being undermined by the EPA waivers.
Iowa agriculture and renewable fuel groups delivered a letter to Pence before his appearance that called for Trump to direct the EPA to reject all petitions for exemptions. Iowa farmers who met with Pence before his speech also brought up the waivers, according to Feedstuffs.com, an ag newsletter that interviewed some of the farmers who met with the vice president.
At one point, the article says, Pence remarked to Ernst that he thought the waivers had been taken care of. Surely she must have pointed out that was definitely not the case.
Pence could have acknowledged in his remarks that the administration had unfinished business to resolve on the RFS, but he didn’t say a word. And Iowa ag leaders noticed.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the renewable fuels association and a former Republican candidate for Congress, said he thinks the president is being influenced by anti-ethanol staff in the White House and that could cost Trump in the November election. “The oil industry echo chamber that the West Wing has become is not serving the president or the vice president,” he said.
Shaw said he thinks Trump’s advisers are tying up the rules and leaving the waivers pending because they know they can’t win re-election without Texas.
Shaw agrees Trump can’t win without Texas but says he doesn’t believe denying the RFS exemptions would cause the president to lose in key oil states. However, Shaw warned, “If he leaves the RFS and farmers hanging out here in the breeze for four years, he may very well lose Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
The Trump administration could still turn things around, Shaw noted. “I mean, literally, today, the president should pick up the phone and call the EPA to stop, you know, goofing off and deny these exemption requests,” he said.
Ethanol producers also need coronavirus relief now, like what has been provided to other industries. While travel has begun to rebound since spring, it is still not back to normal and ethanol plants have had to shut down because of the lack of demand.
Shaw said he and everyone he talks to in Washington believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture has both the authority and the money to offer relief to ethanol plants under the CARES Act. Secretary Sonny Perdue has claimed he doesn’t have that authority. “So we’re going to Congress and saying please get something specific in the bill so that they have no choice,” he said, but that assistance is needed now and something the administration could offer today.
Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking at a Democratic Party news conference, said the administration could help farmers now by having the EPA immediately move next year’s RFS rules. “I think the Trump administration could establish now, the 2021 Renewable Fuel Standard goals and establish the gallons that would be produced to give a clear signal to the market of support,” he said. “There’s deep concern that they’re not going to do that until after the election. Because Big Oil essentially would like to undercut the RFS.”
Vilsack said the administration also could act now to help farmers with trade barriers, especially with China. “The reality is, China has made promises to buy more American agricultural products. They’re not currently on pace to meet the promises that they made under the phase one trade agreement. So essentially, farmers are still making up for the lost opportunity over the last two and a half to three years because of the retaliatory tariffs,” Vilsack said.
The Trump administration has not fulfilled its promises to farmers. The president still has the ability to do so before November and potentially save some ethanol producers and the corn farmers who rely on that market. But instead, it appears their strategy is to keep claiming “promises kept.”
As Shaw likes to say: “Look, we may be in flyover country, but we’re not stupid.”