Jul 22, 2020
After carving out a role as an "ethanol senator," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said yesterday he's not sure he's won much support even in his own party — but he's making an additional pitch to help the industry weather the pandemic.
Grassley, Iowa's senior senator, told reporters he and fellow Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst are still pressing for pandemic-related aid for biofuel producers in the next coronavirus aid bill and that he wishes more lawmakers from corn-growing states would warm to the idea.
"We need help from others, and I expect that other people are going to help, but it seems like we have to be the instigators of it," Grassley said. Iowa is the country's top ethanol-producing state.
By Grassley's count, 14 states are considered big corn producers. With two senators each, he said, those states ought to generate 28 pro-biofuel votes in the chamber.
"I don't know why it always falls on Ernst and Grassley to be the only ones that presumably are ethanol senators," he said.
Grassley repeated his earlier calls for financial assistance to help biofuel producers who had to shut down or slow their plants during the early months of the pandemic. At one time, as much as half the nation's ethanol production was affected, and more than 130 plants either fully or partially shut down.
Asked if he believes biofuel producers should be given dollar-for-dollar parity with the oil industry — which benefited from government purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — Grassley said ethanol should be treated more generously.
"There ought to be more help for ethanol than for oil," Grassley said, because oil was cheap at the time the government helped that industry though SPR purchases.
Among the measures Grassley has sought: reimbursement to biofuel producers for feedstocks they bought between Jan. 1 and March 31. He introduced thatbillwith Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in May, resurrecting a proposal he'd initially intended to add to a pandemic relief bill — but hadn't because oil industry relief wasn't included either.
The petroleum reserve purchases came through Trump administration actions instead.
Grassley's call for biofuel assistance is one of a few agriculture provisions he's pressing, including help for hog producers who lost money through forced depopulation of animals. That was a result of COVID-19 outbreaks forcing meatpacking plants to close.
Biofuel groups such as the Renewable Fuels Association continue to press for assistance, along with restrictions on EPA's ability to waive biofuel blending requirements for small refineries.
Prospects for biofuel aid aren't clear as the Republican leadership crafts a relief bill this week. And while Grassley said he doesn't think his party's leadership is much more friendly to ethanol than in previous years, the Democrats aren't any more receptive.
"I've got all sorts of quotes from Schumer, how he's anti-ethanol," Grassley said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who's supporting Ernst's opponent, Theresa Greenfield, in a close reelection race this fall.
Despite Schumer's history against ethanol mandates, Democrats have tried to cast Ernst as not aggressive enough on biofuel issues, including prodding her to demand EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler's resignation, as Greenfield has (E&E Daily, July 21).
"Don't put it on the shoulders of Republican leaders when Democratic leaders are fighting it," Grassley said. "It's not just a Republican problem."
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