Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will not take up Douglas Benevento’s nomination for the No. 2 position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) announced her opposition.
Ernst said in a statement on Friday that she would oppose the nomination, citing issues that ethanol and biodiesel producers have with the agency over blending requirement waivers for oil refiners.
“Until EPA tells us exactly what they plan to do with the ‘gap year’ waivers, Mr. Benevento does not have my vote,” Ernst said. “Iowa’s hardworking ethanol and biodiesel producers are sick of being yanked around by Andrew Wheeler and the EPA. Our producers need certainty; until we get that, no EPA nominee is getting my vote.”
In response, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the panel, said that the committee will not hold a vote on the nomination.
“In light of Senator Ernst’s announcement, a path forward for Mr. Benevento’s nomination to be deputy administrator of the EPA no longer exists,” Barrasso told The Hill in a statement. “He is well qualified for the position but does not have the votes.”
“While I strongly disagree with Senator Ernst on the Renewable Fuel Standard, her long-standing position on the side of Iowa corn farmers won’t be overcome in this case. The committee will not be taking up this nomination,” he added.
Spokespeople for the EPA and the White House did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.
President Trump earlier this year nominated Benevento, who has been serving as the EPA’s associate deputy administrator, to be deputy administrator.
Prior to joining the Trump administration in 2017, Benevento worked for gas and electric utility Xcel Energy and has also been a registered lobbyist for natural gas producer Colorado Interstate Gas.
During a confirmation hearing in March, Ernst pressed the nominee over exemptions to ethanol blending requirements for small oil refiners.
There has been a chasm among Senate Republicans who live in corn-producing states and those who live in oil-producing states over Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) and waivers for blending requirements.
The RFS establishes a requirement that a certain amount of biofuels be blended into petroleum-based fuels like gasoline. Supporters of the rule say it is better for the environment and supports the biofuel industry, while opponents say it can create a big burden for small oil refiners that are subject to it.
The EPA has issued waivers for some small refiners who said they were impacted by the requirement, however, a court in January overturned three agency-issued waivers, and the EPA did not appeal the decision.
After deciding not to appeal, the agency has considered lifting its ethanol fuel requirement amid pandemic-related struggles for the oil industry.
And it was recently reported that the EPA is weighing more than 50 waiver requests.
Trump considers both the oil industry and farmers to be parts of his base, making the issue politically complex.
Ernst’s announcement is not the first time in recent weeks that Republicans have broken rank to oppose a Trump nominee.
Earlier this month, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that they opposed the president’s pick to lead the a consumer safety agency, citing her record on a class of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS.
Moore Capito’s vote against that nominee, Nancy Beck, in committee would lead to a tie vote, resulting in Beck failing to get the panel’s approval.
Ernst is up for reelection this year and nonpartisan forecaster the Cook Political Report has rated her race as leaning Republican.