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Biofuels: Trump Picks Stir Unease

Last week, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported that, “Biofuel supporters largely keep pointing to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign statements on ethanol, but the stack of nominations coming from Trump with far closer ties to oil than ethanol is quickly starting to raise some red flags.

“Trump has largely built his energy team over the past week with the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, followed Monday with the Secretary of State nominee of Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was announced early Wednesday as nominee for Energy Secretary.

All three nominees have battled against the Renewable Fuel Standard and other policies that benefit biofuel production.”

The DTN update pointed out that, “Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now nominated by Trump to be ambassador to China, sought to ease concerns Dec. 13 during a press conference on his transition for governorship. Branstad said Trump assured him not to worry about ethanol policies during Trump’s victory rally last week in Des Moines.”

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal pointed to the difference between Trump’s campaign rhetoric on biofuels, and his EPA pick, who opposes the biofuels mandate.

Amy Harder and Jacob Bunge reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “After campaigning as a strong supporter of the use of ethanol and other biofuels in the nation’s gasoline supply, President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a forceful adversary of those federal requirements to implement them.”

Harder and Bunge explained that:

This has set off high-stakes jockeying across the oil, refining and agriculture industries about what will become of the mandate, which requires refineries to blend increasingly large amounts of biofuels—mostly corn-based ethanol—into gasoline.

The Journal article added that, “‘I am there with you 100%,’ Mr. Trump told hundreds of Iowans whose livelihoods depend on the ethanol industry at a summit in January. ‘You’re going to get a really fair shake from me.’

“Since then, however, critics of the ethanol mandate have had Mr. Trump’s ear. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, the majority owner of a small refinery operator facing hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to comply with the policy, was an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s and helped select Mr. Pruitt as his EPA chief.”

Meanwhile, beyond the concerns regarding Trump’s Cabinet nominees, and more specifically to Carl Icahn, Bloomberg writers Mike Dorning and Beth Jinks reported yesterday that, “President-elect Donald Trump named billionaire investor Carl Icahn a special adviser to help him overhaul federal regulations in ways the Republican said would promote business growth.”

Yesterday’s article added that:

Icahn has attacked the EPA repeatedly over costs his refinery investments face complying with renewable-fuel mandates. Icahn cheered the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, saying Trump consulted him on the pick.

Wall Street Journal writer David Benoit pointed out yesterday that, “The position isn’t an official government job; Mr. Icahn won’t get paid and won’t have to give up his current business dealings.”

In a tweet yesterday, DTN’s Chris Clayton pointed to this Bloomberg article from August, which reported that, “A surge in government-backed ethanol blending credits has billionaire investor Carl Icahn worried that independent refiners like CVR Energy Inc., in which he owns an 82 percent stake, will be bankrupted by the ‘rigged‘ marketplace.

“‘The RIN [Renewable Identification Number] market will cause a number of refinery bankruptcies,’ Icahn wrote in an Aug. 9 letter to Environmental Protection Agency administrators Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe obtained by Bloomberg.”

The August Bloomberg article added that, “Speculators and investment banks have partnered with gas-station retailers to gang up on refiners that are stuck buying the credits they can’t produce, Icahn said. As a result, the RIN market has become ‘the mother of all short squeezes’ for the independents.

However, with respect to balance of power issues, Rob Nikolewski reminded readers in an article in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that:

The Renewable Fuel Standard has some powerful allies on Capitol Hill, especially among members in farming states.

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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