Scott Pruitt is having a hard time right now. Unauthorized wage increases. Exorbitant expenditures on security details for Rose Bowl trips. Building illegal private phone booths at the office. Every day seems to bring a new scandalous revelation. Not to treat these things as insignificant, but there is something else that Pruitt has been doing lately that has me a little more upset. Because, well, it feels more personal.
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that gasoline sold in the United States contain a minimum level of ethanol made from renewable sources, like corn. Oil companies have long whined that the requirements are too burdensome, too difficult, and too expensive. To accommodate those complaints, federal law allows for hardship waivers. That is, facilities that use no more than 75,000 barrels of crude oil per day may be given an exemption to the RFS, as decided by the EPA.
Ethanol production is important for farmers, particularly corn growers, because it comprises a significant share of the market. Given that corn prices are currently sitting at or below the cost of production, the last thing the market needs is reduced consumption, which would just drive costs down even more.
But Pruitt doesn’t seem to think that is a big deal because he has been handing out the RFS waivers to oil refineries like candy, including to refiners that use more than the allotted barrels of crude oil. In fact, Pruitt granted a waiver to one of the country’s largest oil refineries, Andeavor, which the National Corn Growers Association says had a net profit over $1.5 billion last year.
Talk about a hardship.
On the flip side, a reduction in ethanol production does create a hardship for farmers. The NCGA reports that every 1 billion gallons of ethanol production ties back to 2.1 million harvested corn acres. To put that number in perspective, a loss of 1 billion gallons of ethanol equals the loss of the annual harvested corn in the entire state of Michigan! There are currently 54 refineries that meet the definition necessary for a waiver. If Pruitt continues to grant waivers, the loss in total gallons of ethanol would be over 1 billion. In other words, more than the entire state of Michigan.
Pruitt’s waivers are nothing more than a backdoor run around to the RFS, and a favor to big oil companies.
This is so disappointing because, up to this point, I have a mostly favorable opinion of Pruitt. As Attorney General in Oklahoma, he took on the animal rights activist organization the Humane Society of the United States by challenging its status as a charity. He challenged California’s egg law, which essentially imposed regulations on farmers across the country for egg production. As head of the EPA, Pruitt made quick work of ending the EPA’s controversial WOTUS rule.
Pruitt’s actions are nothing more than a stab in the back to corn growers across the country.
Combined with Trump’s support for the RFS, and rural America’s role in getting him elected, Pruitt’s actions are perplexing. These waivers come at a time when family farmers are struggling, and many are being squeezed out of business. Considering the President’s recent trade war with China, which threatens tariffs on a variety of agricultural products, it certainly seems like rural Americans are being left behind again. Pruitt’s actions compound these problems.
Not everyone in the administration is sitting silently while this happens. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has spoken up against these waivers, and organized meetings between President Trump, Pruitt, and himself to discuss the problem. Sen. Chuck Grassley has also been vocal in calling out Pruitt and his harmful actions.
But if Pruitt continues down this path, it might be time for him to hit the road like so many others.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.
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