Farmers say Trump broke promise on ethanol with waivers to refineries

Iowa farmers are pushing back after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE reneged on a promise to review a national program that gives waivers to small refineries that don’t add ethanol to their gasoline. 

The president had promised corn farmers he would review the exemption program after a June trip to Iowa, but a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to issue new waivers to fuel producers signaled an end to the administration’s study.

Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneIowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race Pelosi-backed group funding ads for vulnerable Democrats amid impeachment inquiry Centrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule MORE (D-Iowa) has requested an EPA Office of Inspector General investigation of the program and whether it violates renewable fuel laws, but at a press conference in Iowa on Wednesday, farmers directed their anger more at Trump than the EPA.

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Delayne D. Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors, said he was proud he voted for Trump after the president announced earlier this summer that he would allow ethanol to be added to gasoline year-round, ending a summertime ban designed to reduce smog. 

“I was equally shocked when I learned that there were 31 small refinery exemptions” issued to plants owned by major companies, Johnson said.

Trump’s call came just two months after a meeting with some of the very same farm groups. It was a decision directly from Trump to go ahead and issue the waiver on Aug. 9.

“The president has heard from all sides and in the end he has had enough of it. He called [EPA Administrator Andrew] Wheeler and gave him the green light,” a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

But the decision creates tension between two groups Trump views as supporters and may threaten the patience of farmers who have already been hit hard by the tariffs of Trump’s trade war.

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Jeff Jorgenson, a board member of the Iowa Soybean Association, described the ethanol requirement as an opportunity to help farmers who face hardship, as the government "has played a role in market instability."

In her request for an investigation, Axne said EPA’s waivers go against congressional intent to increase blending of renewable fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“Right now what we’re seeing from this administration is a dogged approach to allow the biggest fossil fuel players an opportunity to put more money in the back pockets of their large shareholders and take that money out of the pockets of hardworking farmers right here in Iowa,” she said. 

An EPA spokesperson said the agency is following the process for giving waivers to refineries that would face an economic hardship by adding ethanol to their fuel.

"EPA, with our federal partners, including USDA and the Department of Energy, continues to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard program in accordance with the Clean Air Act, taking into consideration additional direction from Congress, and relevant court decisions," the agency said in a statement to The Hill. 

"There is zero evidence that EPA’s congressionally mandated small refinery exemption program, which provides regulatory relief to small refineries around the country, has had any negative impact on domestic corn ethanol producers," it added.