Sen. Joni Ernst pushing to rein in renewable fuel refinery exemptions

James Q. Lynch
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Winning a rule change to allow the year-round sale of the E15 blend was a “tremendous boon” to Iowa corn and ethanol producers, “but it’s not the end of the fight,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said June 20.

Ernst said she is pushing the Trump administration and Congress to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s issuance of “so-called hardship small refinery waivers.”

“EPA has a harmful habit of handing out small refinery waivers like candy — doing so behind closed doors, with no congressional oversight,” the Iowa Republican said in a conference call with Iowa reporters.

Ernst said she addressed the issue with President Donald Trump and EPA Director Andrew Wheeler when they were in Council Bluffs recently to mark the removal of the EPA restriction on the year-round sale of E15, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol.

“The president has kept his promise,” she said, “but the practice of handing out waivers left and right to refineries both big and small has got to stop. Plain and simple.”

Working with Democratic and Republican senators from neighboring states, Ernst is pushing the Renewable Fuel Standard Integrity Act. It would require small refineries to petition for RFS hardship exemptions and for the EPA to make public the application.

“I want to be hopeful because the president has been so supportive of the RFS and our farmers and those producing ethanol and biofuels,” she said. However, it’s a “long, hard process.”

Ernst believes the White House is less of a problem than winning congressional support.

“That’s our first hurdle,” she said. “We have a lot of oil state congressmen and senators who simply do not want to let up on the small refinery exemptions.”

Loebsack pushing, too

Also Thursday, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, co-chairman of the House Biofuels Caucus, called for the EPA to suspend issuing the waivers until a review of the program is completed.

Since this administration began using the waivers to “help prop up large oil companies,” Loebsack said he has worked to shine a light on the exemption process and demand transparency from the EPA.

“It is past time this administration realizes the role the excessive use the (waivers) program has played in undermining the RFS and harming farmers and biofuel producers,” Loebsack said.

“Our goal should be to expand the use of ethanol and other renewable fuels, not weaken the RFS, which is what some of the most profitable oil producers are seeking to do through these exemptions.”