The 2018 Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents’ trip to Washington D.C. got a late addition to the week’s agenda on Wednesday as the group heard from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Before the head of the EPA was even able to step up to the microphone he received a round of applause as he and his agency was being touted for their work on blocking the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule until 2020. As Administrator Pruitt addressed the room full of farmers, he promised them a rule that would clear up any of the muddied waters created by the language of the former rule.
“WOTUS was not done the right way the first time. We are fixing it and making sure that you have clarity and as we go forward you are going to have a new definition this year,” Pruitt said. “This new definition will respect private property owners, it’s going to respect the role of the states and it will make sure that the Clean Water Act definition of Waters of the United States takes into consideration and understands it was never intended to be a puddle, it was never intended to be a dry creek bed and all of those things will be addressed with clarity and confidence so that you know where federal jurisdiction begins and ends. That’s coming in 2018.”
Changes to the WOTUS rule will be the beginning of what the EPA is striving to achieve when it comes to changing the process of rule making altogether.
“Over the last several years the EPA has had an influx of what we call consent decrees, where the agency is sued by a third party and in the course of that litigation there are decisions made to alter a statute,” Pruitt said. “It was always sue and then settle and regulate the litigation, bypassing comment and bypassing the ability of stakeholders to make their voices heard.
“The rule making process is good. Why is it good? Because we propose a rule, then we hear from folks all over the country and then we make decisions based upon that input. To bypass that process entirely with a ‘sue and settle’ process, cutting a deal with one party through a lawsuit and then applying that deal to the entire country is just simply wrong. We fixed that last year when I ended the practice because process matters.”
As Pruitt fielded questions from the audience he was asked about his agency’s view of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
“There is a commitment to the RFS and the ethanol mandates,” Pruitt said. “It’s really remarkable when you look over the last 10 plus years at the infrastructure that has been built and we are exporting about a billion gallons of ethanol a year right now, so that 15 billion gallon cap is something that is in the statute and we are right on that as far as production and we are exceeding it with exports taking place. It’s amazing what has been achieved.”
Those numbers are for conventional ethanol and Pruitt admits that advanced biofuels has some challenges.
“We haven’t seen the same type of growth in certain advanced categories, like cellulosic ethanol,” Pruitt said. “Secretary Perdue is doing a great job and we are working together on these issues and if legally I am able to authorize the RFS RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) waiver 12 months a year that makes sense to us. It’s not a policy question, it’s a legal question.”
Pruitt said that refiners that have an obligation to blend ethanol are facing some meaningful challenges and that the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) program may need an overhaul.
“RIN reform is something that I think has to happen in some way,” Pruitt said. “I think there are some indications that RINs were being held and not sold and that’s driving some inflationary pressure on RINs, so there needs to be more transparency. So there are some issues to deal with on both sides of the ledger, but I want you to know in dealing with those issues that it isn’t a sign or indication that there is less of a commitment by the President with respect to the RFS. There are just very difficult issues that we have to work through to provide clarity to all of the participants in the marketplace and we have to do that with wisdom and thoughtfulness as we do it.”