Republican senator threatens to call on Pruitt to resign

Republican senator threatens to call on Pruitt to resign
© Greg Nash

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley extends deadline for Kavanaugh accuser to decide on testifying Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Kavanaugh accuser seeks additional day to decide on testimony MORE (R-Iowa) is threatening to push for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE’s resignation over ethanol policy.

Grassley made the threat Tuesday as part of a warning to Pruitt against the EPA’s reported “hardship” waivers, which are given to fuel refineries to exempt them from the federal ethanol mandate under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“Well, they better, or I’m going to be calling for Pruitt to resign, because I’m done playing around with this” he said of his request that EPA stop issuing the waivers to individual small refineries owned by large companies.

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Grassley argued that waivers violate promises by Pruitt and President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE to keep the annual federal ethanol mandate at the level Congress called for in 2007, which is currently 15 billion gallons.

His state is dominant nationally in corn production, and the ethanol mandate has significantly ramped up demand for corn to create the biofuel. He fears the waivers will chip away at the mandate and hurt Iowa. 

“Trump was elected with an agenda, Pruitt was not elected, and it's Pruitt’s job to carry out the Trump agenda,” he said in a call.

Grassley reiterated the threat later Tuesday in a tweet.

“I’ve supported Pruitt but if he pushes changes to RFS that permanently cut ethanol by billions of gallons he will have broken Trump promise & he should step down & let someone else do the job of implementing Trump agenda if he refuses,” Grassley wrote.

More than 170 Democratic lawmakers have called on Pruitt to resign over recent scandals regarding his ethics and spending decisions, including renting a condo for just $50 per night from a lobbyist and spending more than $3 million on round-the-clock security.

A handful of House Republicans have also asked Pruitt to step down. Grassley would be the first Senate Republican to do so, although Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Collins 'appalled' by Trump tweet about Kavanaugh accuser Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it MORE (R-Maine) has said Pruitt “is the wrong person to head the EPA.”

Reuters and other news outlets have reported in recent weeks that the EPA has given waivers to refinery facilities owned by big companies such as Andeavor and CVR.

The waivers are intended for small refiners. Ethanol supporters say that means big companies should not get them, but refinery supporters say small facilities owned by big companies are eligible.

“The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to give relief to any small refinery that suffers disproportionate economic hardship from the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Grassley and oil-state GOP senators have been negotiating among each other and with Trump in recent months to try to get changes to the way the EPA enforces the ethanol mandate, with the goal of saving refinery jobs without hurting the ethanol industry.

Trump committed last week to pursuing a policy to allow 15 percent ethanol blends — known as E15 — to be sold year-round, removing rules that restrict its sale in the summer.

Grassley strongly supports that policy, but warned that giving too many waivers would erase its gains.

“It could undo the benefits of E15 12 months out of the year,” Grassley said in the Tuesday call.