New EPA Chief Will Continue Scott Pruitt’s War With The Corn Lobby

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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The corn lobby cheered Scott Pruitt’s departure from the Environmental Protection Agency, but his successor has made clear he will continue to seek changes to the country’s biofuel mandates.

Scott Pruitt made few friends in the ethanol industry while he led the Environmental Protection Agency. The former EPA chief, they argued, was too loose when granting oil refineries exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), relieving them from the strict ethanol requirements. The RFS is a 2005 law that mandates oil refineries include a certain amount of ethanol into their fuel mix. The corn lobby supports the mandate because it increase demand for their product, but the oil industry argues it needlessly drives up their costs.

In a move that further enraged the ethanol industry, Pruitt in June sought reforms that would have scaled back the RFS altogether. His attempts fell flat after attracting widespread condemnation from Iowa Republicans.

After Pruitt resigned from his position amid mounting ethical scandals, many hoped his work in reforming the RFS would leave with him. However, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has revealed that he plans to pick up where his predecessor left off. In fact, Wheeler may have the political know-how to actually get something done. (RELATED: What Acting EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler Means For Trump’s Deregulation Agenda)

“When everyone is complaining about the program, we need to look at ways to change the program,” Wheeler, a longtime Washington lobbyist, stated on Tuesday. The interim leader of the EPA said he would continue Pruitt’s attempts to change the the RFS, which includes counting ethanol exports toward biofuel mandates.

However, Wheeler is also open to changes that would be supported by the corn lobby. He has entertained a proposal to boost the sale of higher-ethanol gasoline mixes and require refiners to blend more ethanol to make up for volumes lost under the country’s waiver program. Wheeler said such a deal between the corn industry and oil refiners would not be enacted piece-by-piece, but done altogether.

“We’re not going to implement piecemeal parts of that deal,” he explained Tuesday, speaking at his Washington office to the media. “I don’t want to just implement part of a broader deal that fell apart, but I’m looking to see what else we can do.”

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