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Don’t quit on trade deals now

October 12, 2018

P oliticians like to have it both ways.

The latest example of that involves President Donald Trump, who trumpeted his decision to lift the summer ban on fuel containing 15 percent ethanol. He made much of it during a recent campaign appearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he suggested that Democrats would abandon ethanol and biofuels if they become the majority party in the House and Senate in this year’s mid-term electionw.

The summer ban that runs from June to September on E15 was enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency because, in its opinion, the alternative fuel emits more particles into the atmosphere than environmental rules allow, creating more smog and unhealthy air.

Many farmers and ethanol makers have long disagreed with that assessment.

Trump’s self-avowed support for ethanol and alternative fuels rings hollow based on the administration’s earlier actions. Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley — long an ethanol supporter — and others know that the administration’s earlier actions indicate it is a tepid supporter of alternative fuels. The prime proof of that is the Environmental Protection Agency decision earlier this year to weaken the nation’s biofuels mandate.

The weakened mandate has damaged ethanol producers by reducing demand and thus cutting into profit margins.

The administration cannot have it both ways. If President Trump intends to seriously support ethanol and not just use it as a campaign weapon, he ought to pressure the EPA to reverse its decision on biofuels.

As it is, lifting the ban will have a minimal positive impact, although it could be an effective tool on the campaign trail.

Common sense is in extreme short supply in Washington. Ethanol and other biofuels have been successful because their positives far outweigh their negatives. Alternative fuels are good for the environment, reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and remain a vital economic development tool in rural America.

New rules on the trading of biofuel credits, which allow oil refineries to sidestep blending ethanol into their products, need to be made and need to have teeth.

We have no doubts that the administration will come under increasing pressure from oil-producing states to let them ignore the E15 mandates. The president is focused on jobs and will probably hear the worn-out statement about ethanol taking away jobs from refineries. Trump needs to be reminded that E15 will mean steady jobs at ethanol plants in corn-producing states, as well as help corn hold its sale price for farmers.

Any effort to buck up fossil fuels and protect its market share would be short sighted and should backfire.

Here’s a suggestion for Republican and Democratic office seekers: make alternative fuel support a centerpiece of your campaigns as you seek rural voter support.

Make it clear that the EPA needs to reverse its biofuels decision. Trump’s decision to lift the ban is important, but it’s just a small step in the right direction.

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