by Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Mario Parker
Republican Senator Joni Ernst blasted allegations of ethical misconduct by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, calling him “about as swampy as you get.”
Pruitt’s tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency is under intensifying scrutiny, with at least 10 federal investigations probing his $50-per-night rental of a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist, his frequent taxpayer-funded travel and his spending decisions.
“He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own cabinet,” Ernst said, of Iowa.
Ernst said she was frustrated with Pruitt’s handling of the U.S. biofuel mandate, arguing that he is undermining President Donald Trump’s campaign commitment to support ethanol.
“Mr. Pruitt is breaking our president’s promises to farmers,” Ernst said at the Platts Energy Podium in Washington. Maybe at some point Trump “will say it’s time for you to go, but that is up to the president.”
With someone “going against the campaign promises that are made,” Ernst added, “I don’t know how long that relationship can last.”
The comments from Ernst coincided with sharp words from her fellow Iowa Republican, Senator Chuck Grassley, who told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday that Pruitt “has betrayed the president.”
Neither went as far as calling for Pruitt’s resignation. Grassley said he would reserve judgment until after he’s reviewed a forthcoming White House outline of planned biofuel policy changes.
Trump administration officials are slated to detail those policy changes following weeks of negotiations by the Agriculture Department and the EPA, including a plan to lift summertime restrictions on the sale of a higher ethanol gasoline blend known as E15. But that outline has been delayed for weeks amid sharp disagreements over the possible changes.
Farm-state lawmakers have blasted the EPA’s moves to more liberally waive small refiners from annual biofuel blending quotas, following a federal court decision last year. Ernst said she was also frustrated Pruitt was pursuing a change that could allow exported biofuel to count toward compliance with the domestic blending mandates, after rejecting the idea in a letter to her last year.
Farmers nationwide rallied behind Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, forming part of the rural-voter bedrock that put him in the White House. But fissures in that rural support have developed over biofuels and trade initiatives that threaten agricultural exports.
“Right now, support is wavering in Iowa; people are really worried,” Ernst said. The White House’s planned biofuel policy changes “could further destroy our corn and biofuels demand, and at a time when our farmers are hurting.”
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