President Donald Trump did a victory lap with Iowa and Nebraska farmers on Tuesday, touting his administration’s move to lift a ban on selling gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol during summer months.
And he certainly received accolades from elected officials, industry groups and farmers for the move.
“A promise has been made. That promise was made by President Trump. And folks, a promise has been kept,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. “And today I say to you, Mr. President, thank you.”
But at the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy facility, he also heard about his administration's liberal granting of waivers on ethanol use by oil companies — even by speakers who shared the stage with him.
“Mr. President, you delivered on E15 but we have more work to do,” said farmer Kevin Ross of Minden.
At the event, Trump also signed an executive order that he said would promote agricultural biotechnology. The White House said the order will order federal agencies to “streamline” regulations to speed innovation.
Officials from Growth Energy, a biofuels trade group, said they expect the move to spur development in places like Nebraska and Iowa.
“It’s a huge boost for rural communities at a time when they so desperately need it,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a biofuels trade group.
Skor, who got a mention in Trump’s speech, said in an interview that the previous rules around E15 caused logistical issues for sellers and that she expected to see more gas stations offering the product.
And Randy Gard of Bosselman — Nebraska’s top E15 retailer — urged others to sell the product.
“Don’t be afraid of it,” he said. “Customers love it; our customers love it.”
Iowa and Nebraska are the No. 1 and 2 ethanol producers. Sales of ethanol drive business for corn farmers and ethanol refining plants.
Critics used the event as an opportunity to push the administration to issue fewer waivers of ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“The E15 announcement gives with one hand, the waiver process takes with the other hand,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. “The result is that we are selling less than we would.”
Enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, that RFS mandate requires refineries to blend certain amounts of ethanol into the fuel supply every year.
The EPA has the power to issue waivers to small refineries that are struggling with undue economic hardships from the blending requirements.
But Vilsack said the Trump administration has been granting the waivers so liberally that they are going to facilities owned and operated by large, profitable companies such as Exxon and Chevron.
He urged the administration to return to the approach of the Obama administration, which exempted far less ethanol blending.
Vilsack served as U.S. agriculture secretary throughout President Obama’s two terms in office.
Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat who represents the area the facility is in, had said she planned to bring up the issue with Trump at the event. But she didn’t attend after White House officials said she wasn’t invited to the tour, just to sit with the audience.
When Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base, Trump spent about 20 minutes with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the 55th Wing commander, Col. Michael Manion, hearing about flood-recovery efforts.
In his speech, Trump also urged attendees at the invitation-only event to press Democrats to pass the USMCA, his trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
He also used the event to get in several digs at former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination, who was also in Iowa on Tuesday.
"The best thing that ever happened to farmers is me," Trump said before he boarded Air Force One to Iowa. "We gave them ethanol at 15, which nobody was ever going to do; which Biden didn't do in eight years as vice president."
For his part, Biden said in Ottumwa that Iowa farmers have been crushed by Trump's tariff war with China. He said Trump is a “threat to our core values” and "our standing in the world."
- Joseph Morton of the BH News Service contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.