Iowa GOPers Furious With ‘Swampy’ Pruitt, But Not For The Reason You’d Think

on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong

Iowa Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley aren’t too happy with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — Ernst called him “swampy,” Grassley said he’d betrayed the President — but not for the reasons you’d think.

The senators have raised no serious objections to Pruitt’s systematic dismantling of countless environmental regulations, his excessive use of taxpayer dollars nor one EPA staffer’s hunt for apartments and a used mattress for her boss.

Rather, they’re furious about corn: The White House and several agencies have long been engaged in negotiations over the mandated use of ethanol in certain fuels. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires refineries to use a certain amount of biofuels — much of it corn-based ethanol — in their products, and so-called RINs, or renewable identification numbers, are used to track compliance with that program. RINs can also be traded like commodities.

Trump adviser Carl Icahn faced scrutiny last year over whether he used his position as a Trump confidant and “unofficial” White House adviser to manipulate the RIN market.

According to Bloomberg and industry information source S&P Global Platts, the Trump administration has offered a concession to corn producers by supporting the year-round sale of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol. But there have also been reported proposals to water down the Renewable Fuel Standard so that refineries are allowed more exemptions from its biofuel requirements.

Administration officials have also reportedly supported allowing tying RINs to fuel exports — a move both Iowa senators have harshly criticized as destructive to farmers.

Platts reported: “Ernst said allowing US ethanol exports to earn RINs will flood the market with RINs, raise exports and invite pushback by other countries that receive a surge of US supply.”

And Grassley told the Des Moines Register: “That could open up a whole bunch of retaliation from trading partners.”

“[I]t would surely undercut domestic production and consumption,” he added. “And you could see how that would be bad for the ethanol industry and agriculture generally.”

“I can’t give any final judgment (on the agreement) until I see it,” Grassley told the paper. “But what I’ve heard, it would fall far short of the promises made to Midwest farmers and the ethanol industry.”

“Big Oil has had Washington wired for some time, and EPA is part of this Washington swamp that’s delivering this blow to ethanol.”

A final deal is reportedly expected as soon as Tuesday.

“I am hopeful that the President will just recognize that Mr. Pruitt is breaking our President’s promises to farmers and at some point he will say, ‘It’s time for you to go,’” Ernst said Tuesday at the S&P Global Platts Energy Podium, in remarks flagged by Bloomberg. “But that’s up to the President to make that call. I will remain highly critical of Administrator Pruitt.”

“Not only do we disagree on the RFS, but there are a number of other transgressions that we have seen coming out of that office directly tied to Administrator Pruitt: the way he spends money, they way he misuses, basically, his office,” Ernst added, according to audio of the interview provided by her office. “He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the President wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet.”

She was presumably referring to the veritable encyclopedia of scandals the EPA administrator has racked up. But the senator was nearly silent on those scandals as they happened.

She told Politico in April: “I don’t appreciate the way he seems to have abused taxpayer dollars.” And a few days later, Ernst was similarly mild to the New York Times: “He needs to watch his expenditures. It’s important that we protect our American taxpayers.”

Ernst spokesperson Liz Bowman noted to TPM that Ernst had awarded Pruitt’s EPA one of her monthly “Squeal Awards” for the five-figure privacy booth he had installed in his office, and awarded another “Squeal Award” to federal agency heads for their “sky high” travel expenses. She also wrote to the Government Accountability Office in October inquiring about travel rules for agency heads and, along with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), wrote to the Office of Management and Budget in March about that office’s oversight of travel expenses.

Grassley said separately Tuesday that Pruitt had “betrayed the president.”

But the senator has been similarly quiet on Pruitt’s numerous, potentially career-ending scandals. Far from focusing on Pruitt’s ethical issues, Grassley has focused on the ethanol, at one point threatening Pruitt’s job over it.

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