Trump's civil war between King Corn and the refineries

State-level politics is boiling over to cabinet-level battles inside the Trump administration, and it once again boils down to the ethanol lobby and the oil and gas industry competing for the attention of the White House. We already knew that King Corn has been pushing the President to continually expand ethanol blending mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard and achieving some success. At the same time, smaller refineries that are being bankrupted by these schemes have been pushing for waivers from the program. They too have gained more ground than they did under the Obama administration.

But now the competing interests are climbing further up the ladder, pitting the EPA against the Department of Agriculture (USDA). And things are getting rather unpleasant. (Reuters)

A law firm representing small U.S. refineries has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to keep refiners’ applications for waivers from the nation’s biofuel policy secret from the Department of Agriculture, arguing that the petitions include confidential business information.

The request, made by Perkins Coie in a letter to the EPA dated July 8, adds to mounting pressure from representatives of the refining industry for the Trump administration to box the USDA out of the controversial waiver program.

The letter follows Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue publicly expressing opposition to the way the program has been run in recent years.

What this boils down to is the fact that the EPA, under Andrew Wheeler, administers the RFS and processes applications for waivers. But the Department of Agriculture, under Sonny Perdue, backs King Corn and thinks that too many waivers are being issued. Representatives for the oil industry are pushing Wheeler to keep the waiver applications secret and not allow the USDA to look at them because they contain proprietary, confidential business information (CBI).

So on the one side, the corn lobby is pressuring the USDA to block some of the waiver requests, while the oil and gas industry is hammering the EPA to keep Perdue’s nose out of it. The division has reached the point where Louisiana Senator John Kennedy has written to Purdue, threatening to block the confirmation of any new appointments at USDA unless he minds his own business.

All of this leaves the President in the same unpleasant situation he’s been experiencing for a while now. He doesn’t want to tick off the farmers in Iowa and the ethanol lobby because of their political clout. But he also can’t afford to dump too much damage on the refinery-heavy states like Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas. But prior to this, we were mostly talking about political pressure and how much the White House was willing to tick off a handful of senators from a few competing corn and oil states. Now members of the cabinet and senior committee members are being dragged into the fray.

Can President Trump keep a lid on this situation for another sixteen months to make it through the election? It’s starting to sound like a classic case of not being able to have it both ways.