Iowa’s two U.S. Senators, both strong proponents of biofuels, strongly criticized a proposal released last week by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that could reduce the volume requirements for biodiesel in 2018 and 2019 and could adversely affect volumes of other biofuels in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“It’s outrageous that the EPA would change course and propose a reduction in renewable fuel volumes,” said Sen. Charles Grassley in a statement. “This seems like a bait-and-switch from the EPA’s prior proposal and from assurances from the president himself and Cabinet secretaries in my office prior to confirmation for their strong support of renewable fuels.”

Sen. Joni Ernst sent a letter to President Donald Trump expressing her concern that the EPA’s move would hurt Iowa farmers, manufacturers and rural communities. Ernst noted Trump’s “relentless backing” of biofuels and asked him for more clarification regarding the EPA’s move.

Iowa biofuel advocates also expressed alarm about the EPA move to request comments on a plan to reduce the 2018 advanced biofuel volume requirement to 3.77 billion gallons from the proposed 4.24 billion gallons.

The EPA plan would also reduce the total renewable volume requirement to 18.77 billion gallons from the 19.24 billion gallons proposed in July.

Sharp contrast

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, told Radio Iowa that the EPA move appears to be in sharp contrast to Trump’s support for biofuels.

“The president says: ‘I support renewable fuels. I want them to be part of our “America First” energy plan,’ and you have an EPA that is doing everything in its power to come up with convoluted pretzel logic to lower the numbers and to rip the heart out of the RFS,” he said.

In his comments, Grassley said he has a “strong suspicion” that big oil refineries are behind the EPA move despite assurances to the contrary.

Ernst said that while the EPA document technically provides the public notice and an opportunity to comment, in reality it serves to make the case for substantially lowering the volumes for U.S. produced biodiesel, just as domestic producers are making investments to bring unused capacity back online.

“It is my hope that this ‘opportunity to comment’ is that and only that,” Ernst said in her letter. “It is also my hope that your EPA has not forgotten about the pledges that were made to my constituents and to farmers across the country. And it is my hope that your support of American jobs and made in America energy has not wavered.”

Export issues

Separately, there were rumors last week that oil refiner Valero is encouraging the EPA to attach renewable identification numbers (RINs) to exported biofuel, primarily corn-based ethanol.

Emily Skor, CEO of ethanol promotion group Growth Energy, said this action would run counter to the RFS statute and noted that the rumors come on the heels of a misguided attempt by Valero, Carl Icahn and other merchant refiners to shift the obligated party under the RFS.

“While we cannot speculate on whether this rumor is being given any sort of official consideration, what is absolutely clear is that the idea runs contrary to the intent and plain language of the statute,” Skor said.