President Donald Trump intervened personally with the Environmental Protection Agency amid pressure from Republicans in the politically important state of Iowa who worried the agency was poised to weaken biofuel quotas, three people familiar with the discussions said.
Trump directed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to back off any changes that would dilute a federal mandate for biofuel use, the people said. A top EPA official said Trump’s urging was unnecessary because Pruitt wasn’t planning on weakening the mandate.
Nevertheless, the agency was told by the White House to drop two changes that were under consideration: a possible reduction in biodiesel requirements and a proposal to allow exported renewable fuel to count toward domestic quotas, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the move.
The issue is politically treacherous for the president because it pits his allies in the oil industry against Midwest voters who helped elect him, including Iowans who hold first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. While campaigning in Iowa last year, Trump pledged to protect ethanol and the biofuel mandate.
Trump called Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Wednesday to reassure her of his commitment to the program. “It was a really good, productive conversation,” she said in an interview.
Pruitt has also been working behind the scenes to soothe Midwestern politicians and biofuel backers alarmed by the possible changes the EPA was considering, the top agency official said.
Reynolds is one of a phalanx of Midwest politicians who have lobbied the administration by highlighting the president’s promises to support ethanol and signaling that any move to weaken annual quotas would be seen as a betrayal.
“They are feeling the pressure, and that’s why we need to keep it up, we can’t let down,” Reynolds said during a press conference with biofuel backers in Pella, Iowa.