IL Corn believes that the EPA, under the leadership of former administrator Pruitt, granted small refinery exemptions that effectively undermined the Renewable Fuel Standard and provided a backdoor out of the obligation to meet the congressionally mandated volume of renewable fuel blending in this country. In effect, by failing to reallocate those exempted gallons, the actual corn-ethanol inclusion rate will likely drop below 14 billion gallons, clearly short of the 15-billion-gallon goal of the RFS. Today, at a Senate hearing, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified on the agency’s priorities for the first time since taking over the agency following Scott Pruitt’s July 6 resignation. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) asked Wheeler to commit to greater transparency and adherence to the law.
Some characterize the change from Pruitt to Wheeler as merely a change in style, rather than in substance, and that Wheeler appears to be holding the same line Scott Pruitt took during his time at the helm of the agency. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Scott Irwin thinks that is the case given what he's seen from Wheeler to this point. He talked with U of I Extension’s Todd Gleason. You can hear the conversations between Gleason and Irwin here. “The damage has been on lost potential for growth in higher ethanol blends,” Irwin said.
The transcript of Senator Duckworth’s exchange with Wheeler during the hearing reads as follows:
Senator Duckworth: Finally, before close, I want to address a critical program: The bi-partisan Renewal Fuel Standard program, the RFS, that has been already discussed at length this hearing. Well we all are out there supporting our farmers. I’m alarmed by the administration’s efforts to undermine this program. Even Brett Kavanagh the nominee to serve in the Supreme Court, has sided with the oil industry in several RFS related cases. Mr. Kavanagh went as far as to argue that the oil and food industries were palpably and negatively affected by EPA allegedly illegal E15 waiver and at standing to directly challenge the E15 waiver in court. As you discussed with my colleagues, Senator Ernst and Senator Rounds and Senator Fischer, EPA has been undermining the RFS and abusing the small refinery exemptions. We need to understand how EPA is making decisions on granting these exemptions, will you promise to report to congress on how these decisions are being made, provide public notice on these decisions and bring greater transparency to this work?
Wheeler: Absolutely, in fact were developing a dash board so the whole public can see what we’re doing on the issue and when and how we’re granted the waivers. We have to be careful that there are confidential business information claims by some of the refiners when they apply, so we have to guard that, but we want to make sure we release as much information as we can, be very transparent and let everyone know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Senator Duckworth: I need to stress again that ethanol is an American grown and American produced product, as opposed to foreign oil that we’ve sent troops for a decade to fight over. I’d rather be supporting American farmers growing American produce to put in American gas tanks. I understand that the EPA may be constrained by laws, you have testified, and I look forward to working with my colleagues, Sen. Rounds and earns on a legislative fix and I very much thank you for being here and I certainly enjoy our discussion and I very much appreciate the return to transparency that you’re pledging to bring to the EPA.