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Biden Campaign Reacts to Trump Ethanol Decision

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media file
Former Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack says supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard was among the promises then-candidate Donald Trump made to rural America, and that as president, Trump is only now supporting the RFS.

Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is reacting to recent moves by the Trump administration to help the ethanol industry. On Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the EPA is rejecting 52 waiver requests from previous years that would have let oil refineries get around blending corn-based ethanol into the fuel supply.

“[The move] follows President Trump’s promise to promote domestic biofuel production and support our nation’s farmers,” Administrator Wheeler said in a statement this week.

Iowa biofuel and agriculture groups, along with leaders in the state like Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, applauded the move.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who serves as ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, sees it differently. She said President Trump has favored the oil industry by putting fossil fuel lobbyists in charge of the EPA while farmers have been hit hard by his trade wars. Stabenow spoke on a Biden campaign call with Midwest reporters on Wednesday.

“It would be welcome news at the beginning of the Trump presidency but already the damage has been done,” Stabenow said.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was also on the call. Vilsack, who served as USDA Secretary in the Obama administration, says President Trump made three promises to farmers and rural residents while campaigning in the Midwest that he’s failed to deliver on.

“He told us that he would give us better trade deals, make a major investment in rural infrastructure… and that he would be stronger supporter of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Vilsack said. “Now at this late date he becomes a Johnny-come-lately to the third promise of supporting the RFS.”

The ethanol waiver issue has also been an ongoing talking point in Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield’s campaign in her effort to defeat Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in November. Ernst asked President Trump to deny the waivers last month when he visited the Cedar Rapids airport for a roundtable following the devastating derecho.

“The administration has listened to our calls,” Ernst said in a statement Monday. “[The announcement] will help provide more certainty to our biofuel producers, who have for too-long been yanked around by the EPA.”

Greenfield also released a statement following the decision echoing the points made by the Biden campaign.

“Fifty days before Election Day, this announcement does nothing to erase the massive economic damage in Iowa caused by Senator Ernst’s vote for a fossil fuel lobbyist to run the EPA,” Greenfield said in her statement. “[The EPA] has already issued 85 RFS waivers that benefit Ernst's Big Oil donors.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Trump won Iowa by 9 points in 2016 after the state went for former President Obama twice. He needs the support of farmers to win in states like Iowa in November. Polls show Trump and Biden in astatistical tie in the state.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, national ethanol production has recovered significantly since the initial drop from the pandemic. Production is now down about 10 percent from this time last year, after dropping about 50 percent in the spring.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.