Chuck Grassley puts the screws to Trump on ethanol

On Monday we looked at the somewhat mysterious situation going on at the EPA and whether or not they would move to begin rolling back some of the ethanol mandates buried in the Renewable Fuel Standard. It’s a complicated question because Scott Pruitt’s department has been giving signals that such a rollback might be in the offing, but President Trump has been solidly onboard with King Corn thus far. There’s also a split in the GOP, where conservatives don’t care for mandates in general and ones which burn food for fuel and are of dubious benefit in particular, but a lot of deep red, corn-producing states elect Republicans who are deep in the pockets of King Corn.

Today the mystery deepens, with a bit of a battle brewing between the EPA and one of the chief supporters of ethanol mandates, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. It turns out that there are some fairly routine Trump nominations to the EPA coming up for a vote and Grassley is threatening to shoot them down unless he receives assurances that Pruitt won’t roll back any of these mandates. In fact, he wants them increased. (Des Moines Register)

A Republican senator says he may seek to block President Donald Trump’s nominees for key posts at the Environmental Protection Agency unless the administration backs off a proposed reduction in the volume of biofuels blended into gasoline and diesel.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he plans to speak with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about the Renewable Fuel Standard. Pruitt has proposed targets for 2017 and 2018 set slightly below current levels following a push by oil companies to ease mandates for using ethanol from corn and soybeans.

Grassley said EPA’s proposed rollback would result in job losses in his home state. Pruitt’s position is in contrast to the staunch support for the biofuel industry Trump pledged as a presidential candidate last year.

Asked what sort of leverage he might have to force the EPA to bend to his will, Grassley simply responded, “Hold up EPA nominees. I think there’s plenty of senators would do that.”

I’m not sure about the “plenty” part, but he makes a good point. The Democrats are ready to jump on any opportunity to defeat more Trump nominations and most of them probably don’t give a fig about ethanol mandates if push comes to shove. They only need a few Republicans to abdicate and they can put another feather in their caps in terms of the effort to #RESIST Trump, regardless of what it does to the economy.

This is one of the major disconnects in conservative politics in America today. There are so many good arguments against the Renewable Fuel Standard for any honest conservative that it’s not funny. First, it’s a mandate which picks winners and losers in a private industry. Even if you’re arguing in terms of environmental impact, ethanol is terrible for the amount of land it takes up, water usage, fertilizer runoff and all the rest. And ethanol is terrible for small engines and older large engines. Plus, it produces less energy by volume than standard gasoline. It’s a bad deal for everyone except those being subsidized by the government to sell more corn to burn instead of eat.

It seems as if Scott Pruitt is in tune with these realities, but he still has to answer to his boss when it comes down to brass tacks. And the last thing President Trump needs is another battle on his own Right flank over nominations. So how will this one play out? Stay tuned.

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023