U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) led a bipartisan effort with Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in urging the Trump administration to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and reject requests for the RFS to be waived.
In a bipartisan letter to the president, Sens. Smith, Ernst, Grassley and Stabenow —along with 22 other senators including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — outlined the importance of upholding the RFS, especially during COVID-19, which has already caused harm to the biofuels community. Sens. Smith and her colleges also underscored the detrimental impacts a waiver would have on employment, farmers, food security, fuel prices, and the environment.
“Waiving the RFS would cause further harm to the U.S. economy, especially our most vulnerable rural communities. It would also exacerbate the effects experienced by the biofuel sector as a result of COVID-19, causing far-reaching detrimental impacts on employment, farmers, food security, fuel prices, and the environment,” wrote Sen. Smith and her colleagues. “The resiliency of America’s renewable fuel industry has already suffered as a result of the EPA’s drastic expansion of the small refinery waiver program in recent years.”
The senators went on to reject the legality of the waivers: “Recent requests for a waiver of the RFS are unjustified and clearly do not satisfy the rigorous requirements necessary for EPA consideration. RFS waivers can only be granted by EPA if there is a demonstration of ‘severe harm’ to the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States that is directly caused by the RFS. None of these standards are met today and the following reasons clearly demonstrate the case for rejecting the waiver requests…”
“We’re grateful to our champions who are standing shoulder to shoulder with rural communities confronting a wave of biofuel plant closures, farm bankruptcies and demand destruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emily Skor, Growth Energy CEO. “The oil industry’s transparent attempts to capitalize on the current health crisis to steal markets from farmers and biofuel producers threatens to dash hopes of an economic recovery in America’s farm belt. Our lawmakers and governors have made it clear that any move to further weaken biofuel markets is a non-starter, and we urge the administration to swiftly reject oil-backed attacks on the RFS. Now, more than ever, we need leaders to stand up for rural America and deliver the urgent relief our industry needs to protect biofuel jobs and their vital role in the agricultural supply chain – from producing animal feed for livestock operations to carbon dioxide for meatpackers and municipal water treatment.”
“It’s incredibly devious of the oil industry and its champions to use the economic pain Americans are facing right now to circumvent their obligations to increase the use of clean fuels. If EPA were to grant this waiver it would only undermine efforts to improve air quality and public health at this critical time,” said Stephanie Batchelor, vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. “We applaud Senators Ernst and Smith for leading the opposition against this effort. We must build towards a resilient and cleaner future and that starts by promoting investment in low carbon fuels and supporting the farmers and sustainable fuel producers in rural America.”
Sen. Smith has long fought for a strong RFS, both in Washington and during her time as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. In October 2019, Sen. Smith pressed U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky about Trump administration policies which have limited the amounts of renewable fuels that are blended into the nation’s gasoline supply at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. Sen. Smith also led a 2019 letter pressing EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to stop abusing oil refinery waivers, pointing out that the granting of waivers had increased by 370 percent compared to the previous administration, with “small refinery” waivers going to large oil companies for the first time. In November of 2019, Sen. Smith joined several colleagues in submitting testimony for the Congressional Record calling for an end to waiver abuse. Sen. Smith is also a cosponsor of the bipartisan Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act. In March of this year, as the coronavirus caused ethanol prices to drop to record lows, Sen. Smith pushed President Trump to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), pressure that helped lead to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to appeal a unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals concerning small refinery exemptions.