By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- As much angst as EPA has caused for the ethanol industry with Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) hardship waivers granted to small refineries, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he doesn't believe EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should be replaced.
Speaking to agriculture journalists on Tuesday, Grassley said he agrees with most of what the administrator has done at the agency but continues to be concerned the EPA and President Donald Trump are not on the same page when it comes to federal biofuels policies.
Lawmakers and others who have called for Pruitt's removal face a bit of a dilemma. Grassley said chances of approving a new head at the agency would be slim, considering Democrats continue to filibuster Trump nominees at every turn.
Pruitt is scheduled to testify on Thursday before the House Subcommittee on Environment regarding the agency's 2019 budget. However, the administrator will likely get a barrage of questions regarding the RFS, his travel habits and other issues as well.
Though there is immense pressure on the administration to fire Pruitt, Grassley said he doesn't see that happening.
"There's a lot of legislation on the floor, and there's not time for a nominee to come up through EPA," Grassley said. "Except for ethanol, Pruitt's pretty much right on other actions he's taken."
Pruitt has been lauded in farm country for rolling back EPA regulations, including the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that is on track for a rewrite on into 2019.
The EPA administrator has drawn intense scrutiny for granting at least 40 RFS waivers to small refineries, and even larger oil companies that own them in many cases. The waivers originally were designed for small companies who could show that conforming to the RFS requirements creates economic hardships. In recent weeks, it was reported that large oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron, have asked EPA for waivers in 2018 despite reporting more than $1 billion in profits.
There have been questions as to why Pruitt's actions at EPA have not matched the president's public support for the ethanol industry. Grassley said he believes Trump is often unaware of every detail in every agency.
"I think he's (Pruitt) trying to get a balancing act between refining and ethanol," Grassley said. "The president has said to me publicly and privately that he intends to keep his commitment to ethanol. I think he has a director in Pruitt who isn't keeping the president's promises. A president of the United States can't get into every detail of every cabinet member, or what every agency is doing. He's (Pruitt) running waivers out like every refinery was distressed. That is way beyond the intent of the law. I wish someone would challenge that in court."
As of Tuesday, the EPA is not facing lawsuits, though some ethanol industry representatives have indicated legal challenges may be on the way.
One week ago, Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., led a bipartisan group of senators in writing a letter to Pruitt, calling on the EPA to stop issuing waivers and to provide more transparency on waivers dating back to 2016. In addition, the senators also asked Pruitt to provide information about EPA's plan on how it will approach future requests.
Also signing the letter were Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Debbie Stabenow, R-Mich.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
The EPA has drawn fire for what seems to be a lack of transparency on waivers dating back to 2016 as well as details about the companies receiving waivers and the amount of biofuel blending excluded.
Estimates are that to date, the waivers issued could have resulted in more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol not being blended. Small refiners and others have urged the EPA to place a cap on the price of biofuels credits called renewable identification numbers (RINs). The waivers issued, however, have led to a drop in the price for RINs.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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