A few miles from a shuttered cellulosic ethanol plant, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt worked to win over Iowa farmers and ethanol and biodiesel producers uncertain about his commitment to renewable fuels.
Pruitt offered some messages that were bound to please the ag audience at the invitation-only event: In action this week, EPA required a maximum 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
And Pruitt said EPA is working to clarify which tributaries fall under federal oversight through a new Waters of the U.S. rule after repealing an Obama administration rule that critics complained was too broad.
“If the impetus behind the rule – behind the 2015 rule – was clarity … the previous administration failed miserably,” Pruitt said. “It created substantial confusion across the country.”
Pruitt, taking only a few carefully selected questions from host Bill Couser, a cattle producer, said farmers are the first “conservationists and environmentalists.”
The former Oklahoma attorney general said it was “wrong-headed” for “anyone in Washington, D.C., to not look at you as a partner, but as an adversary, to not think you care about the water you’re drinking or the air that you breathe.”
Farmers have been under pressure in Iowa to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that can pollute lakes, rivers and streams, and contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pruitt said the country needed to discuss what “true environmentalism” means: “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 and not use our natural resources.
“I don’t buy that. We, as a country, have an obligation to feed the world and power the world,” he said, getting applause. “When you have the natural resources like we do, we should use them to benefit our neighbors, our country and world.”
Bill Northey, Iowa’s agriculture secretary, said Pruitt is setting a “tone that’s different from what we’ve heard in the past from EPA.
“If you believe the folks who work on the land care about what they’re doing, you’d have a lot less expansive definition” of federal regulations, said Northey, who has been nominated to take a top job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pruitt skirted criticism that followed EPA’s action this week that sets the amount of ethanol and biodiesel that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
Iowa renewable fuels advocates complained that EPA should have required higher levels for the fuels.
Northey, who joined Gov. Kim Reynolds in having lunch with Pruitt, said EPA was concerned about biodiesel producers’ ability to meet demand, a worry the industry has strongly disputed.
Couser said Pruitt wants to set cellulosic ethanol standards that are attainable.
EPA set the quota at 288 million gallons for next year, 7 percent below this year’s goal.
The industry has struggled to produce cellulosic ethanol, a greener, next-generation fuel that can use crop residue, algae and other materials to make the renewable fuel.
DowDuPont, the combined company that owns the Nevada cellulosic plant, announced last month it would shutter the plant and lay off 90 workers.
The company said it no longer fit with its strategic plan. “We just can’t seem to get there,” Couser said. “But we have to keep the number high enough to promote growth, research and development.”
Iowa also has a cellulosic ethanol plant using corn cobs, husks and stalks to make ethanol in Emmetsburg that’s ramping up production.
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