NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration has been scrambling to stem the tide of rising anger in Farm Belt states after its decision this month to allow numerous oil refiners to mix less ethanol into their gasoline, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Trump held a two-hour meeting on Monday with members of his cabinet after hearing blowback from farmers’ groups over the decision to grant exemptions from the nation’s biofuel laws to 31 refineries, two sources familiar with the discussions said. It remained unclear what actions Trump would be able to take to appease farmers upset that he had granted the waivers.
Refiners are required to blend biofuels into the nation’s gasoline pool or buy credits to fund those who can. Corn farmers and ethanol producers lobbied to dramatically cut the number of exemptions from these rules, which have hit a record under the Trump administration.
Monday’s meeting included representatives from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the sources said. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prior to Trump’s term, just a handful of smaller refineries were granted relief from this requirement. Trump’s administration has vastly expanded those waivers, including granting relief to facilities run by oil giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp. Trump personally directed the EPA to grant the most recent waivers, sources told Reuters.
The EPA granted the exemptions just as Democratic candidates hoping to challenge Trump in 2020 visited the Iowa State Fair, where they sought to position themselves as fighters for ethanol.
Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of corn and ethanol; President Barack Obama won the state handily twice before it swung heavily to Trump in 2016.
“President Trump has lied to Iowa farmers at every turn. He promised to unleash ethanol but instead all he’s done is secretly unleash Big Oil from their renewable fuel obligation,” Democratic candidate and front runner Joe Biden tweeted recently.
Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by David Gregorio