Growing up on a farm, I developed a lot of grit. And later, serving as a combat company commander in the Iowa National Guard, I learned quickly to never be afraid of a fight. I’ve taken that grit and determination to every battle I’ve faced in the United States Senate. And one fight I’m no stranger to is standing up for our hard-working farmers and producers and defending the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
For years, under President Obama and Vice President Biden, I pushed hard to get higher blends of ethanol, like E15, made available year-round. I vividly remember a meeting with Democrat and Republican senators and President Obama’s chief of staff at the time, pleading for them to lift the outdated regulation on E15 — but they didn’t budge. So, when a new administration rolled in, you better believe we tried again. And this time, we succeeded. Two years ago, the Trump administration approved the sale of E15 year-round, and they did so just in time for the summer driving season.
But we didn’t just take the victory and run. There were more battles ahead.
During an Oval Office meeting with the president, I secured a commitment by this administration to guarantee 15 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into gasoline – as the law states — and to expand infrastructure for E15. Recently, we won another battle when the president announced he would permit states to allow existing fuel infrastructure to be used to support E15 — boosting corn and ethanol demand.
Now, when it comes to the tug-of-war between biofuel and oil, earlier this year there was the big decision in the 10th Circuit Court that stated EPA had granted three small refinery exemptions (SREs) improperly. This decision was a game changer for our biofuel producers, and Big Oil knew it. When I heard reports that the administration might try to appeal the decision, I called the president to urge him to let the decision stand. And folks, you guessed it, he let it stand.
But like clockwork, another battle was on the horizon.
While E15 was a big boon for the biofuel community, our farmers and producers have faced blow after blow with the SREs that EPA has been handing out like candy to refineries owned by Big Oil companies like Exxon and Chevron. This summer, the oil industry tried another one of their tricks and started petitioning for “gap year” SREs. Some of these hardship waivers date as far back as a decade ago. So again, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work to put a stop to these ridiculous waivers. I put together a bipartisan group of us to explain to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler just how unlawful these “gap year” waivers really were. Per usual, it seemed like EPA wasn’t paying attention, so I decided to hold up the nomination for their second in command — the nominee for deputy EPA administrator, Doug Benevento — which ruffled a lot of feathers in Washington.
But we didn’t stop there. When the president came to Cedar Rapids to discuss the recent derecho disaster, I took the opportunity to direct his attention to these “gap year” waivers and secured his commitment to intervene personally with EPA. And he did. The “gap year” waivers are goners. We won a huge battle.
As you can see, fighting for the RFS is a big job. It is one I’m happy to do because our farmers and producers are the heart of Iowa. And growing up on that small family farm, I know just how much our farmers do for all of us. I’m not afraid to go toe to toe with people in my own party, including the president of the United States, when it comes to Iowa. While we’ve delivered some big wins in this biofuel battle, I’m certain there will be more. And you better believe I’ll be ready to fight.
Republican Joni Ernst represents Iowa in the United States Senate. She is a candidate for re-election this year.
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