Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt visited Nevada Friday to tout his commitment to maintaining biofuel levels a day after releasing new renewable fuel volume requirements and months after the agency reportedly considered lowering those levels.
Pruitt met with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and local farmers, including Bill Couser, a farmer near Nevada who hosted the event, in closed-door discussions before making public comments. He did not take questions from the audience or the media, and one reporter was escorted out by Pruitt’s press team before the event.
Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the organization he now leads several times, has led several deregulatory efforts at the EPA. During his tenure, the agency has rolled back the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule, while Pruitt himself encouraged President Donald Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Many of those policies were implemented under the Obama administration.
Pruitt spent much of the event emphasizing the role of local players managing environmental protection issues instead of the federal government, saying the Obama administration failed to work with those involved at the local level.
“You should respect the role of the states, respect the partnership and know that the issues facing Iowa are different than the issues facing Kentucky,” he said.
The EPA chief also said the role of the agency and environmentalists in general must focus on using natural resources for society at large rather than stringent conservation.
“We have been blessed with a bounty of natural resources, and some view that as we should simply not use them, that we should put up fences,” Pruitt said. “I don’t buy that. I think we as a country have an obligation to feed the world and power the world.”
Pruitt’s appearance appears to be a peace offering to agricultural groups after he reportedly suggested lowering the Renewable Fuel Standard’s volume requirements, mandating how much renewable products oil producers must mix into their fuel, and allowing some exported biodiesel to count towards the quota.
Trump axed the proposal after a lobbying blitz from Midwestern legislators, including Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
When asked by Couser about working for Trump, Pruitt said “I love it,” saying his job is to inform him before making decisions Pruitt said are directly creating economic growth.
Pruitt briefly spoke about the RFS and its volume requirements, saying he’s hopeful to see biofuels exports increase next year. He also touted the EPA releasing the final volume levels by its late November deadline and setting it to as much as possible.
“Fifteen billion (gallons) is the maximum we can authorize under the statute, and we authorized 15 billion,” he said.
Pruitt also said the EPA is having internal discussions about whether it can legally provide waivers to retailers wanting to sell E15 blend fuel year round, but personally is in favor of it.
Gas retailers are not allowed to sell E15 during peak summer months due to concerns that its volatility could produce more ozone-damaging exhausts.
States with heavy oil refiner presence are continuing the fight over volume levels. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is reportedly holding the confirmation vote for Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey’s nomination to an undersecretary post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The hold appears to be a bargaining tool to force discussions of an RFS overhaul.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, told reporters at Friday’s event while it was nice to hear Pruitt supporting biofuel volume requirements, his organization still has to prepare for lobbying battles every year as the EPA prepares to release new standards.
“We’re not here to say everything’s rosy and perfect,” he said. “We definitely have our work cut out for us to get this EPA to view the potential of advanced biofuels with the same support they view the potential of corn ethanol.”
Couser expressed confidence in Pruitt after the event, saying the EPA chief told him not what he wanted to hear, but “what I needed to hear” during the private conversations. He said previous administrations asked too much of biofuels producers in the renewables industry’s infancy, but he expects Pruitt to set reasonable volume goals while the industry grows its production capacity.