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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt talks with Kansas corn farmer EPA
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visits with farmers in June where he received an earful on his actions that have deterred ethanol demand.

Biofuels put final nail in EPA administrator Pruitt’s coffin

EPA administrator resigns after backlash from corn farmers and ethanol supporters.

Once hoped to be a friend to agriculture leading the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt found himself faced with farmers rallying for him to resign in June over criticisms of his lack of commitment to uphold the president’s promise on supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard.

On July 5, there was likely a collective sigh of relief from the countryside when President Trump tweeted that had had accepted the resignation of Pruitt.

From a dustup over the need to cap prices for Renewable Identification Numbers to blaming biofuel mandates on the bankruptcy of a Philadelphia-based refinery, biofuels have had their share of turmoil under Pruitt’s watch.

Months of hopeful negotiations among the White House, biofuel supporters and oil proponents have brought no breakthroughs to ease the demand destruction that’s already occurred for ethanol blending or approval for year-round E15 use.

Earlier in June, Pruitt visited the countryside and was given an earful from corn farmers and biofuel producers. Ethanol facility East Kansas Agri-Energy LLC hosted a roundtable meeting that was serious, and at times tense, as corn growers and ethanol supporters explained the problems EPA has caused by destroying demand for ethanol. He was met with a rally in South Dakota, where some signs even called for his resignation. 

Since early on Pruitt was criticized by government watchdog and environmental groups for his mounting ethics issues, including foreign trips arranged by lobbyists, a rental deal from the wife from an energy lobbyist, extra security detail and expensive office renovations.

The Sierra Club generated almost 100,000 comments calling for Pruitt’s firing and helped expose many of his scandals through Freedom of Information Act requests. Yet in recent months criticism from biofuel supporters and their friends on Capitol Hill grew louder as Pruitt was unable to help bridge the divide in several White House meetings between refiners and biofuel groups.

In a statement from Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, he said for the past year Pruitt has been “waging war” against the RFS, the biofuels industry and the millions of farmers and rural Americans who helped elect Donald Trump.

“It appears these missteps finally caught up with Mr. Pruitt, who apparently thought that RFS stood for ‘Refinery First Strategy.’ Mr. Pruitt’s failure to follow President Trump’s directive to remove the red tape that restricts E15 from being sold in the summertime likely played a part in his demise, and the straw that broke the camel’s back may have been Mr. Pruitt’s recent proposal for 2019 RFS requirements that failed miserably to repair damages done to our nation’s farmers and biofuel producers,” said Dinneen.

Emily Skor, Growth Energy CEO, said Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator has put a “heavy strain on this administration’s relationship with supporters, farmers and biofuel producers across the heartland.”

When explaining the relationship Pruitt had with those in the industry, Advanced Biofuels Business Council executive director Brooke Coleman said, “Scott Pruitt’s decisions on biofuels drove a wedge between President Trump and his backers in the Midwest.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has been one highly critical of Pruitt and involved in the White House meetings. He said of the news, “President Trump made the right decision. Administrator Pruitt’s ethical scandals and his undermining of the President’s commitment to biofuels and Midwest farmers were distracting from the agency’s otherwise strong progress to free the nation of burdensome and harmful government regulations. Fewer things are more important for government officials than maintaining public trust. Administrator Pruitt, through his own actions, lost that trust.” 

The Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as the deputy at EPA. On Monday, July 9, he will assume duties as the acting administrator of the EPA. “I have no doubt Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!” Trump tweeted.

Grassley said he hopes Wheeler views this as an opportunity to restore this Administration’s standing with farmers and the biofuels industry. “I’m looking forward to working with acting administrator Wheeler to do just that,” Grassley said.

Wheeler, who was tangled up in a six-month confirmation battle, has been criticized as his time as a coal lobbyist and as an aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who had been skeptical of climate change science. However, Wheeler does have a reputation of where who works well with both friends and foes. When he was a lawyer he has served agricultural interests including Archer Daniels Midland and General Mills.

Biofuel supporters are hopeful Wheeler at the top can offer a more smooth ride.
“We look forward to working with acting administrator Andy Wheeler, whose long career focusing on policies that recognize economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive is not undermined by an unmistakable anti-ethanol, anti-farmer bias,” Dinneen said.

Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Assn. (NCGA), said it’s no secret corn farmers have been frustrated with Pruitt’s ongoing actions that undermined the RFS.

“Even with this leadership change at the EPA, our priorities do not change. We will continue to push the EPA to stop granting unjustified RFS waivers. We expect the EPA to account for the more than 1.6 billion gallons the agency waived from 2016 and 2017 RFS obligations, and we will continue ask EPA to follow through on the president’s commitment to remove outdated regulations to allow higher blends of ethanol like E15 to be sold year-round. We are hopeful Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will work with America’s corn farmers to give consumers more options at the pump to save them money and reduce emissions and provide farmers with certainty in the marketplace that comes with RFS integrity,” Skunes said.

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