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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 ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule Restoring the EPA: Lessons from the past 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role 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 ErnstRepublicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill 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 SasseBen SasseSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Republicans, please save your party 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 FischerBiden pick for Pentagon cruises through confirmation hearing Push for ,000 stimulus checks hits Senate buzzsaw Overnight Energy: Biden makes historic pick with Haaland for Interior | Biden set to tap North Carolina official to lead EPA | Gina McCarthy forges new path as White House climate lead 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.