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Grassley Wants AG Nomination, Supports New Owners of Central Iowa Cellulosic Plant

Amy Mayer/IPR file
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks at the opening of the DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada in 2015.

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator is calling on President Donald Trump to appoint a new attorney general to replace former Iowa prosecutor Matt Whitaker. Whitaker became acting attorney general after the president forced out Jeff Sessions.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says Whitaker’s controversial history is attracting scrutiny.

“We got an acting attorney general? Appoint somebody and all these questions about Whitaker would go away,” Grassley told reporters on Tuesday, “unless Whitaker was his nominee. Then, of course, they’d be enhanced a great deal.”

Whitaker is taking heat for criticizing the investigation, which he now oversees, into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Grassley said he’s aware of a slate of potential nominees to become attorney general, a position that requires Senate confirmation. But he isn’t committed to any of them.

“There’s a lot of names that’ve been thrown out there. And I believe Whitaker’s name is on the list. I’m going to let the president make that choice,” Grassley said. “If I felt strongly about one of them over the other I might lobby the president.”

But the senator said he doesn’t have a ready opportunity to do that. Meanwhile, Grassley said he won’t hold a hearing on Whitaker because the post is temporary. Critics argue the appointment is unconstitutional because there was no Senate confirmation.

Grassley also spoke about the sale of an idled cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, offering his support to a German biofuels company.

DuPont opened the plant in 2015, and began converting corn stover bought from area farmers into the second generation renewable fuel. About a year ago, the company closed up shop, saying after its merger with Dow, cellulosic ethanol was no longer in its portfolio.

Now, the German company VERBIO North America is buying the property and planning to make renewable natural gas, also with corn cobs, stalks and leaves as feedstock. Grassley said the type of fuel isn’t familiar to him, but he welcomes the investment.

“I want these things to succeed because Iowa has long been on the forefront of ag and energy innovation,” he said.

VERBIO operates two renewable natural gas plants in Germany and this will be its first one in the United States.

"If they’re investing this kind of money in a project 5,000 miles from where they live and in the middle of the United States, they must know that they’ve got a process that’s going to work,” he said.

According to its website, VERBIO also plans to build another renewable natural gas plant in Kansas.

The company says it will employ 44 people in Nevada.