Biofuel producers fume over waivers for big oil


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Midwest lawmakers are taking up the cry of ethanol producers who say the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump is letting them down again.

This month, the EPA issued another 31 waivers to big oil companies allowing them to opt out of blending ethanol, which biofuel producers say is costing the industry billions in profit.

“There’s no other purpose to these exemptions other than to destroy demand,” Paul Winters of the National Biodiesel Board said. “We’ve seen refiners, biorefiners, biodiesel producers shut down plants. … It rolls through the entire rural economy.”

Now lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want answers.

“They screwed us,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in an interview with Iowa Public TV.

He said the EPA is handing out dozens of waivers to companies that don’t qualify for relief.

“What’s really bad isn’t a waiver, it’s that being granted to people that really aren’t (experiencing a) hardship,” he said.

Fellow Iowan Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, on Wednesday called for a federal investigation into the waiver process.

“I intend to make sure that the Office of Inspector General does a thorough job on this investigation so that we know exactly what we’re up against so that we can make this right,” she said.

She said the waivers resulted in the loss of more than 4 billion gallons of ethanol sales, and she said the Trump administration needs to fix the policy to meet its promise to support farmers.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also wants the EPA to stop handing out the waivers, a spokesman for his office said in a statement Wednesday. Until that happens, the statement said, “E15 remains nothing but an empty promise.”

Durbin has signed on to a bill from fellow Illinois Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth that would force the EPA to name the exempted companies and explain why.

But the fuel industry says the waivers aren’t the problem.

“It’s simply inaccurate to say that this undercutting demand. … Ethanol production and consumption is at an all-time high,” said Chet Thompson, the president of American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, the nation’s largest refinery organization. “The source of the harm is probably more attributable to trade disputes.”

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