Other’s opinion: Ethanol: Eliminate the waivers to renewable rules

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Free Press, Mankato

We think it’s fair to say the Biden administration will not be cozying up to “Big Oil” anytime soon. That’s good for farmers and the rest of us.

For the past four years, the Trump administration had made deals with oil companies allowing them to get waivers from requirements to purchase and blend renewable fuels like ethanol into their products. These waivers were given to smaller refiners who were supposedly under financial duress.

The Renewable Fuels Standard was approved on a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2005 and requires oil companies and refiners to blend a certain level of renewable fuels to their refined oil products. The law was designed to reduce greenhouse gases as emissions from things like ethanol are lower than gasoline.

The RFS gives farmers another market for their corn and reduces the reliance on direct government payments. The ethanol industry was built by farmers and for farmers. Many have risked their own money to build plants and produce ethanol.

But Trump and his EPA consistently undercut farmers by granting waivers to the oil industry. The Renewable Fuels Standard has not been enforced as Congress intended. When the courts ruled the administration had no authority over the waivers, the administration did an end run, offering more retroactive waivers and leaving uncertainty about setting a new Renewable Fuels Standard.

Last fall the EPA did deny 54 waivers, but critics called that election year window dressing. Trump had previously approved 85 waivers, a number four times the annual average. That action had reduced ethanol production by 4 billion gallons and reduced corn needed to produce the ethanol by 1.4 billion bushels.

While Congressman Jim Hagedorn, a Trump loyalist, has written letters to the president and communicated with the EPA in what his office describes as numerous efforts to reverse the Trump policy, little was accomplished.

Hagedorn’s office said he and the bipartisan Biofuels Caucus urged the EPA and Trump in January to deny 32 pending waivers. That was to no avail.

And, in fact, a few hours before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Trump’s EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler approved three more waivers for unidentified oil companies, according to a release by Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office. This came at a time when Trump has promised to reject more waivers and a federal appeals court had ruled the EPA “grossly exceeded” its authority on the waivers.

Klobuchar and a bipartisan group of senators including Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have called on the acting EPA administrator Jane Nishida to reverse the “midnight waivers.” They also called on the EPA to recommit to setting the RFS standard in the way Congress intended with gradual increases and few if any waivers.

It’s good to see this important U.S. clean air policy moving back in the right direction to reduce emissions while restoring to farmers a market for their corn.