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, Iowa.
At the event, Trump also signed an executive order that he said would promote agricultural biotechnology. The White House said the order will direct federal agencies to streamline regulations to speed innovation.
Officials from Growth Energy, a biofuels trade group, said they expect the new E15 rule 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, Growth Energy’s CEO.
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Skor, who got a mention in Trump’s speech, said in an interview that the previous rules around E15 caused logistical problems for sellers and that she expected to see more gas stations offering the product.
And on stage, Randy Gard of Bosselman truck stops — 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 No. 2 ethanol producers. Sales of ethanol drive business for corn farmers and ethanol refining plants.
“More American ethanol production means less dependence on foreign supplies,” Trump told the crowd. “Quite simply, it means more energy. And what can be wrong with that? And it’s very good energy.”
The president received a standing ovation when he said: “We will never stop fighting for our farmers, for our country and for our great American flag. Never stop.
“We know that farm country is God’s country.”
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, in a call with reporters before Trump arrived. “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 issued far fewer ethanol blending waivers.
Vilsack served as U.S. agriculture secretary throughout President Barack 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.
Among those joining Trump were fellow Republicans: Sen. Deb Fischer and Gov. Pete Ricketts from Nebraska, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, as well as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
When Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base, Trump spent about 20 minutes with Ricketts, Reynolds and the 55th Wing commander, Col. Michael Manion, hearing about flood-recovery efforts.
In his Bluffs speech, Trump got cheers when he talked about efforts to rebuild Offutt.
The president also urged attendees at the invitation-only event to press Democrats to pass his trade deal with Mexico and Canada, known as the USMCA.
Earlier in the day, Trump got in a dig at former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination, who also visited Iowa on Tuesday.
“The best thing that ever happened to farmers is me,” Trump said in Washington before he boarded Air Force One bound for Offutt. “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.”
After the Council Bluffs event, Trump headed to Des Moines for a fundraiser.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.