Pruitt aims to assure GOP senators on biofuels mandate

Pruitt aims to assure GOP senators on biofuels mandate

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Energy: Watchdog probes Pruitt speech to mining group | EPA chief promises to let climate scientists present their work | Volkswagen manager gets 7 years for emissions cheating Scott Pruitt's year of environmental destruction MORE sought to reassure Midwestern senators about his support for the federal biofuels mandate on Tuesday.

Pruitt met with lawmakers for nearly an hour in Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE’s (R-Iowa) Senate office. The gathering comes as lawmakers of both parties raise concerns about proposed changes to Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a federal program which manages how much ethanol refiners are required to blend into gasoline and how much biodiesel they must blend into diesel fuel.

Earlier Tuesday, Grassley had suggested he could hold up several EPA nominees if Pruitt and the agency don’t provide more support for ethanol, a major industry in his state and elsewhere.

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After the meeting, Grassley said he made a political case for the ethanol mandate, something President Trump supported during his presidential run last year.

“In the Midwest, this is a very important political issue,” Grassley said, noting a phone call he had with Trump on ethanol in August, which led to the meeting with Pruitt.

“He said, ‘you know, I campaigned on, promised ethanol, and I want you to tell the people of Iowa I’m still for ethanol,’" Grassley said. "So I reiterated this story to Mr. Pruitt and said, you can get in the weeds about what you ought to do or not do as a way of policy, but this is an issue of the president keeping his promise to the people.”

Pruitt did not take questions from reporters after the meeting, and the EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

The EPA is considering allowing exports of ethanol to count toward the total biofuel volume obligations for the year, reversing a previous policy, Reuters reported last month, citing sources familiar with the deliberations. 

That would effectively reduce ethanol production mandates, and is concerning corn-state lawmakers.

Senators from ethanol-producing, Midwestern states have opposed that plan, as well an EPA proposal to cut the blending requirements for ethanol next year. 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy US trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade MORE (R-Iowa) said she was still concerned after Tuesday’s meeting.

“Administrator Pruitt again claimed today that he will not do anything to undermine the program. However, we have heard this before. We now need to see it,” she said in a statement.

“I will continue to work with the EPA, but they must prove to the agricultural community who put their faith in this administration that they will fulfill their promise to maintain the letter and the spirit of the RFS,” she continued.

But other Republicans said the meeting was productive.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' GOP senator: Flake donation to Alabama Dem 'a bad idea' MORE (R-Neb.) described the meeting with Pruitt as “very good.”

“I think he listened well in understanding the concern of agriculture states and people who are living in production environments,” he said.

Sasse said Pruitt was unable to give the senators any concrete assurances about the upcoming blending volume requirements for 2018, since he is still waiting for some production figures before making the final call by Nov. 30.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerUS trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar MORE (R-Neb.) said Pruitt “committed to working with us on a variety of issues that deal with the RFS.”

Pruitt “fully understands the importance to the United States when it comes to renewable energy, especially when it comes to biofuels, biodiesel and next generation,” she said. “I think we made our point clear on that.”

Asked about Grassley’s statement on holding up nominees, Fischer said, “there are always options available for senators to use.”

But Fischer said she will vote to advance Bill Wehrum’s nomination to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office, which oversees the RFS, during a committee meeting on Wednesday.