Pruitt’s renewable fuel attacks cost him GOP support in Congress

Pruitt’s renewable fuel attacks cost him GOP support in Congress
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As the drip, drip of Pruitt scandals becomes a deluge, EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight 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 EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards MORE’s supporters continue to claim that he should be protected because he’s “advancing the president’s agenda.” But because he’s breaking a key Trump promise made to Iowa voters, he is losing the support of senior Republicans in the Senate. Given all of the scandals he’s facing, he cannot afford to lose GOP support in Congress. 

It seemed like the mounting allegations of misconduct against Pruitt peaked Thursday as he answered questions before Congress. While reviews of his performance were decidedly mixed, with a former colleague even asserting he lied, the emerging consensus seemed to be that he had weathered the storm, due in no small measure to the continued support of congressional Republicans. The conventional wisdom was that the GOP would overlook ethical lapses if it meant that Pruitt would continue to attack renewables and support their pro-fossil fuel incumbent agenda.

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But Pruitt’s attacks on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have cracked the firewall. Earlier this week, we learned about another sweetheart deal Pruitt handed out to a prominent Republican contributor and former Trump advisor, Carl IcahnCarl Celian IcahnIcahn warns against Cigna-Express Scripts merger Pruitt’s renewable fuel attacks cost him GOP support in Congress Overnight Energy: Lawyer who coined 'lock her up' to get EPA post | Refinery owned by ex-Trump adviser gets biofuels waiver | Lawmakers press Pruitt on emissions standards MORE, that further weakens the RFS.

 

This isn’t particularly new behavior for Pruitt, who has been at times almost comically brazen in his cozy relationship with lobbyists and his willingness to reward them. In this case, however, beyond simply adding to the pile of ethics questions, Pruitt has added kindling to the smoldering resentment that Pruitt is actually breaking a key Trump promise to rural America — his commitment to protect and grow the RFS. 

Earlier this month, five GOP Senators told Pruitt to stop issuing these so-called “hardship waivers.” The revelation that a refinery owned by billionaire Icahn was being bailed out because of “economic hardship” turned the spark into a fire.

The action resulted in a furious tweet from Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech MORE (R-Iowa): “EPA handing out ‘hardship’ waivers to billionaires like Carl Icahn is undermining integrity of the RenewableFuelStandard. Pruitt shld live up 2his commitment to midwest senators &support the law/not mess w congressional intent BAILING OUT BILLIONAIRES ISNT HELPING ETHANOL/FARMERS.” While this may be the most blunt assessment, Grassley is far from the only senator concerned that Pruitt is turning his back on rural America. 

I’ve mentioned before that Pruitt stretched his authority to grant small refinery “hardship” waivers to an uber-profitable refiner resulting in a $50 million windfall. While the RFS waivers haven’t received the same attention as the avalanche of other ethics violations, his rejection of the GOP senators request to stop issuing waivers — and to bring the already controversial Icahn into the mix — will only add fuel to the bubbling rage among the very group he most needs to survive.

Grassley’s tweet was clearly written in anger, but it comes after he patiently made his case before the Icahn waiver was revealed, noting “refineries are being allowed to retroactively get out of the renewable volume obligations the EPA assigned them in November, that fundamentally undermines the Renewable Fuel Standard. It would also amount to a massive government handout to a big corporation that made billions in profits just last year. Giving big corporations like Andeavor a free pass when other companies are required to follow the law of the land isn’t just unfair; it may be illegal.” He’s right. Pruitt should have listened.

Clearly, Grassley is running out of patience. So too, I suspect, are Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (R-S.D.), 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), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerWhy Democrats are pushing for a new nuclear policy Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (R-Neb.), and others who have repeatedly asked Pruitt to uphold Trump’s RFS promise. These senators will undoubtedly raise the issue with the president, and point out what it could mean for his reelection.

Unfortunately for Pruitt, patience from Republican lawmakers (and the president) is the only thing keeping him from yielding the keys to his secret phone booth. By continuing to attack the RFS in direct defiance of Republicans in the Senate, he’s virtually ensuring that he will lack the support he needs to stay on as administrator.

Mike Carr is the executive director of New Energy America, an organization that promotes clean energy jobs in rural America. Previously, he served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy.