'No deal made' as GOP senators meet with Trump on ethanol mandate

'No deal made' as GOP senators meet with Trump on ethanol mandate
© Greg Nash

Four Republican senators representing oil and farm states failed to come to an agreement on changes to the nation’s biofuel mandate during a White House meeting with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE on Tuesday.

The senators met with Trump, Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueSenate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Justices take up major case on water rules | Dems probe administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia | Greens sue EPA over toxic paint strippers Environmental groups sue EPA in bid to ban toxic paint strippers Overnight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds MORE to discuss changes that oil-state senators want made to the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“There was no deal made,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (R-Iowa), who has been defending corn and ethanol interests in recent months amid pressure to change the ethanol mandate or how it is enforced.

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“We reminded President Trump of his commitment to maintaining the 15 billion gallons per year of ethanol under the RFS, his commitment to biofuels, ethanol and rural America.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report MORE (R-Texas), who for months had held up the nomination of Bill Northey to a top Agriculture Department post in order to force the meeting, called the discussion “vigorous and positive.”

“I believe we are likely to reach a win-win outcome. One that is a win for Iowa corn farmers, that results in Iowa corn farmers being able to sell more corn than they can right now, and at the same time that saves the jobs of tens of thousands of union [refinery] members,” Cruz told reporters.

Although no agreement was reached, the Senate did approve Northey’s nomination by voice vote.

Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstPush for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation On The Money: Negotiators aiming to reach deal Monday night | Why border talks stalled | Treasury calls reports on dip in tax refunds 'misleading' | Cuomo, Trump to discuss SALT deduction cap MORE (R-Iowa) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) also attended the meeting.

The RFS requires refineries to mix transportation fuel with a certain level of ethanol or buy credits called Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN).

Cruz has been pushing in recent months for the EPA to put a cap on the price of RINs, which are sold on a market and subject to price increases and decreases, to count exported ethanol toward the mandate total, or to forgive RIN obligations for certain refineries.

He kept pushing that policy at the Tuesday meeting, which he said was to stand up for oil and refinery workers.

“The objective has been and remains to find a solution that stops skyrocketing RINs, which are made up regulatory licenses, from bankrupting refineries across the country and costing the jobs of tens of thousands of refinery workers, while at the same time benefiting corn farmers and expanding the market for corn so that corn farmers can sell more corn,” Cruz said.

The Iowa senators and ethanol interests say those changes would be devastating.

“The bottom line is that these changes will come at the expense of farmers in Iowa and across the heartland,” said Ernst. “Iowans won’t have the wool pulled over our eyes, and we made it very clear in today’s meeting.”

While the meeting didn’t result in any agreements, the senators in attendance said that Trump and his administration also did not make any promises regarding what they would not do using executive power.

“No guarantees on anything. It’s status quo,” Ernst said.

Central to the meeting was the recent bankruptcy of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refinery on the East Coast, in Toomey’s state. The company and its supporters, like Cruz, blame RFS costs for the bankruptcy, while ethanol supporters say the company had bigger financial problems.

“This cannot be Iowa versus Pennsylvania, particularly when the thing that is in bankruptcy was badly managed in the first place,” Grassley said.