November 13, 2018 / 4:15 PM / a month ago

Iowa senator says expect fewer biofuel waivers from Wheeler's EPA

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks with reporters as he arrives for the weekly Senate Republican caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may issue fewer biofuel waivers to small refineries under Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler than it did under its previous leadership, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said on Tuesday.

“I sense that Wheeler has a feeling that (former Administrator Scott Pruitt) was very liberal on his issuing of waivers,” Grassley told a conference call.

Asked if he thought such an attitude change could lead to fewer waivers, Grassley, one of the most powerful voices for U.S. agriculture interests, said: “Yes.”

The small refinery waiver program is among the most controversial issues dividing the U.S. corn industry and Big Oil. Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), refiners are required to blend increasing amounts of biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply each year to help expand the market for farm products.

But small refineries can apply for waivers if they demonstrate that complying would cause them hardship.

Under Pruitt, the number of waivers granted to small refiners soared, angering the biofuels industry which argued the program was being used to benefit energy companies while undermining demand for corn-based fuel.

Wheeler took over the EPA in July after Pruitt resigned in a flurry of ethical controversies.

While Wheeler has said little about his approach to the small refinery waiver program, he has said he would like to introduce reforms to the RFS that can please both the energy and agriculture industries.

At Trump’s direction, the EPA is currently working on a proposal to expand sales of higher ethanol gasoline blends year round, a move meant to help corn growers stung by soft domestic demand and a loss of export markets from trade disputes.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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