Sen. Ted Cruz will lead a delegation to the White House on Thursday to talk President Trump out of his rock-solid support for the ethanol industry, marking the latest chapter in an ongoing intraparty fight between Republicans over how the administration should handle biofuels.
The meeting, which Mr. Cruz has sought for months, comes just days after the Environmental Protection Agency announced increases in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal program that requires the blending of ethanol with gasoline, for 2018. Mr. Cruz’s home state of Texas, along with other states closely aligned with the oil and gas industry, opposed the move.
But Mr. Trump had vowed throughout his 2016 campaign to protect the RFS and promote the ethanol industry, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision on the ethanol mandate was seen by biofuels champions in Iowa and elsewhere as a clear signal the president intended to keep his word.
Mr. Cruz’s state of Texas immediately fired back, asking Mr. Pruitt for a waiver from the entire program, arguing it puts their state economy at a disadvantage.
“The time is ripe for EPA to grant substantive relief from the unique, adverse impacts the RFS program is having on the state of Texas,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Mr. Pruitt earlier this month. “The extreme, detrimental impacts on large portions of the refining sector have now placed unacceptable burdens on the Texas economy and the economy and security of the nation as a whole. The program is now placing tremendous burdens on industrial and retail employment, and capital expansion and construction in the refining sector.”
Oil refiners are required under the RFS to either blend the federally mandated levels of ethanol into their fuel or, if they lack the capacity to do so, to purchase credits known as Renewable Identification Numbers. The cost of those credits routinely fluctuates.
Mr. Abbott isn’t expected to be at Thursday’s meeting, but Mr. Cruz is sure to raise similar concerns on behalf of the oil industry, and his state of Texas.
The Texas senator, a former rival to Mr. Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, demanded the meeting in November after placing a hold on the nomination of Bill Northey, Iowa’s agriculture secretary, to a key post at the federal Agriculture Department.
“I have placed a hold on the nomination of Bill Northey until and unless we secure the aforementioned meeting where we can bring diverse interests together to try to find meaningful short-term solutions while setting the stage for longer-term policy certainty,” Mr. Cruz wrote in October.
It’s unclear whether the meeting itself will be enough to get the freshman senator to end the hold, or if he and his allies will demand substantive changes to the RFS.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the loudest pro-ethanol voice in the chamber, told the Des Moines Register this week he wasn’t invited to the meeting. But, he said, Iowans expect the president to not give in.
Mr. Grassley told the paper he’s not worried about the meeting as long as “the president keeps doing what he’s told the voters of Iowa … so many times — that he supports ethanol.”
The ethanol industry’s leading trade group, the Renewable Fuels Association, argued that Texas’s attempt to escape ethanol mandates is misguided.
“The truth is, the RFS is helping — not harming — the Texas economy by offering greater consumer choice, lower cost fuels, and thousands of jobs in ethanol production and agriculture,” the group’s president, Bob Dinneen, said this week.
“While Texas is always labeled as a big oil and gas state, the RFS has supported a burgeoning renewable fuels industry in the Lone Star State as well.”