Galva ethanol plant

The Trump administration is taking action to boost U.S. demand for corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel, as the president seeks to temper criticism from farmers and Midwest politicians before next year’s election. Shown above is Big River Resources ethanol plant in Galva on July 18. 

Iowa lawmakers are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the fate of an ethanol program at the heart of the state's 48,000-worker renewable fuels industry.

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds have sent letters to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Now they want farmers, biofuels workers and everyday citizens to voice their own concerns to the EPA directly. Public comments through regulations.gov must be made by Nov. 29.

The program in question is the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal rule that mandates biofuels such as corn-based ethanol make up an increasing portion of U.S. gasoline supply.

“I write today to implore the EPA to consider the real-world ramifications of these decisions,” Reynolds wrote in her letter. “These rules have a real and tangible impact on the people of Iowa and across the country.”

The call to uphold the RFS comes after months of acrimonious back and forth between the Trump administration and the biofuels industry. Farmers across the Midwest were incensed when President Donald Trump offered waivers that exempted dozens of oil refineries from the standard.

Farmers and some public officials have complained that waivers lead to drops in demand for ethanol, hurting an already-strained agriculture sector. Rural communities across the state “have had to endure the shuttering of biofuels facilities, a detrimental blow that is a direct result of the EPA’s actions,” Reynolds wrote.

The administration has since brokered an agreement that would restore some of the demand, but there’s disagreement over whether the new EPA proposal is faithful to that agreement.

Iowa is the largest ethanol producer in the U.S., and Illinois is third.

“Plain and simple, if the market for biofuels does not trust EPA to implement the proposal President Trump negotiated, the market will not make investments in biofuels — a dangerous spiral for our industry which will only lead to more plants closed and jobs lost in the heartland,” Ernst wrote in her letter.

“It is time again for the EPA to get this policy right, respect the President’s intent, and uphold the law as it was written,” added Ernst. “This means providing certainty that they will ensure that 15 billion gallons of ethanol will be blended each year.”

In Illinois, groups like the Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Farm Bureau are also leading efforts to champion the RFS before the EPA.

For farmer Michael Zecher, president of the Mercer County Farm Bureau, the issue is not just about increasing ethanol but also about an end to a tumultuous political saga.

"We’d like some closure on something," Zecher said. "Farmers face enough uncertainty. We don’t need additional uncertainty due to political situations."

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