Grassley blasts Trump’s last-minute ethanol exemptions

A legislative proposal would mandate that most fuel sales at Iowa pumps contain ethanol and biodiesel. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa on Thursday said he opposed the Trump administration’s last-minute approval of three ethanol waivers for oil refineries, but added that he hopes to work with President Biden to block similar actions.

The waivers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week would allow the refineries to ignore  requirements that they blend ethanol into their products. Small refineries claim the requirement is cost-prohibitive.

The debate between oil and ethanol interests has been one of the nation’s most heated environmental disagreements in the past decade. Iowa is the nation’s top producer of ethanol and the corn from which it is made. The state is also a major source of biodiesel fuel made from soybeans. Ethanol industry officials have said the waivers are a direct hit to an industry that supports jobs in renewable energy and in farming. 

A reporter asked about the late waivers during Grassley’s weekly phone call with journalists, one day after Democratic President Joe Biden took office.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is a Republican from New Hartford, Iowa.

“I don’t know if I feel betrayed, which is your word, but I surely don’t agree with the decision, particularly after last week,” Grassley said. “It’s ironic. I just got done complimenting (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) last week, for not (approving) any new waivers.”

Several dozen exemption applications still are pending. 

A federal court has at least temporarily blocked the latest three waivers, Grassley noted. The U.S. Supreme Court has a pending related case, he added. 

The fight over ethanol waivers goes back to the administration of President Barack Obama, the senator said. 

Grassley said he hopes to work with Biden but will “hold his feet to the fire like I did the previous two administrations.”

Grassley: Pick up pace on COVID-19 vaccines

Regarding the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, Grassley, 87,  said he hopes the pace picks up. He said he plans to get his vaccines in the next month or so, but noted he likely has some immunity because he had COVID-19.

“I want to see vaccinations speeded up. I do want to get people, particularly over 65, vaccinated pretty fast if we can,” Grassley said. “If that is more money, that’s more money.” 

But Grassley said he has a caveat. “Don’t forget, I don’t know how many billions of dollars we already have in the pipeline for all this, and I want to make sure we (actually) need more money before we appropriate any more.”

Iowa’s senior senator said he hopes to work with the Biden administration on prescription drug price reform, criminal justice issues and farm programs. 

“I intend to keep working on policies that are good for rural America,” said Grassley. “There is plenty of agreement in the room for further progress on trade and biofuels.”

Grassley said it’s been four years since he worked with a Democratic president, but he favors bipartisan initiatives.

“I often say that this town should be about policy, not personality,” Grassley said. “Regardless of who someone supported in the election, I think there is an opportunity to look ahead and work together for the good of Iowa and the country.” 

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.