Grassley to advocate for COVID-19 relief for ethanol producers

By Erin Voegele | July 17, 2020

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, confirmed during a press call on July 17 that he and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will advocate for the inclusion of dedicated relief for ethanol producers the fourth COVID-19 stimulus bill, which Congress is expected to take up as soon as next week.

Grassley sponsored a bill introduced in May that would provide relief to ethanol producers via payments for feedstock made through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. During the July 17 call, Grassley indicated he and Ernst would work to include provisions of that bill into the upcoming COVID-19 bill.

In the long-term, however, Grassley said he thinks that hope for the ethanol industry will be directly related to the extent to which the economy picks up and people start driving. While ethanol production has picked up in recent weeks following sharp declines in March and April, Grassley said he thinks it will be a slow turnaround for the industry to return to pre-COVID-19 production levels. “I think the Ernst-Grassley bill will help in that effort a lot, if we can get it put into the [upcoming COVID-19 relief bill],” he said.

Grassley also briefly addressed the “gap year” small refinery exemption (SRE) petitions that several small refineries have filed with the U.S. EPA in recent months in an effort to circumvent a January ruling made by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined the EPA cannot extend SREs to any small refinery whose earlier, temporary exemptions had lapsed. The 58 gap year SRE petitions that have been submitted to the EPA so far represent an effort by several small refiners to create a continuous chain of SRE approvals that would allow the impacted refineries to maintain eligibility for future SREs.

Grassley discussed a conversation he and Ernst recently had with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler regarding the gap year waivers, noting that Wheeler said the agency is considering the waivers as required by law. Grassley also noted that Wheeler indicated the agency isn’t sure how it would provide relief for any approved gap year waivers. “We got the feeling they don’t know what to do about these, but they have to consider them,” Grassley said.   

He also briefly addressed comments made by Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette during a July 14 hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Energy.  During that hearing, Brouillettee was questioned on the gap year SRE petitions and the Department of Energy’s process to evaluate them. He confirmed that he will work with the DOE’s general council to ensure the analysis his agency is required to conduct is fully compliant with both the Tenth Circuit Court decision and federal statute.