In March, Governors in America’s heartland sent a letter to President Trump about their concerns regarding proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The letter, signed by six Republican Governors, asked the President to reject attempts to weaken the standard. North Dakota’s Governor Doug Burgum was not one of those Governors. While we ask why let’s briefly recap recent events of how we got here.
At the beginning of the Trump Administration, billionaire campaign financier and White House advisor Carl Icahn pushed for a change in the standard which moved the responsibility for blending of ethanol from the refiner down to the retailer. Icahn owns a major interest in a refinery that refused to blend ethanol. Because of that, he was forced to purchase renewable energy credits, RINs, at some expense. He didn’t like it. Icahn was cut off at the pass by Senator Chuck Grassley who must have quietly informed President Trump that getting nominations through the Senate Judiciary committee was more important than paying back favors to Icahn.
Fast forward one year. Trump’s industry allies along with a failing refinery in Pennsylvania are pressuring the White House to make numerous changes to the RFS that would be favorable to specific refiners who refused to blend ethanol. More importantly, these changes would have very harmful impacts on ethanol plants and the farmers who supply corn to them.
In addition for nearly 6 months, Senator Ted Cruz had placed a hold on the nomination of Bill Northey of Iowa for Assistant USDA Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service due, in part, to his demands to weaken the RFS. Recently Cruz withdrew his hold which has lead to a great deal of speculation over whether a deal had been cut between Trump and Cruz.
Here’s where it gets interesting. On March 15th, several farm state Governors signed a letter insisting that President Trump resist Cruz’s proposals for the RFS and maintain the commitment he made toward renewable fuels during his campaign. National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Skunes issued a press release thanking those Governors for their leadership.
“We want to thank these governors for their leadership and continued support on this very important issue that has such a large impact on America’s farmers and rural communities. The RFS is a job creator, economic driver and gives the public an affordable option at the fuel pump. These six governors have a strong understanding of the benefits of the RFS and outlined why other proposals on the table would have a negative impact on rural America.” – Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), on the letter to President Trump from Midwest Governors regarding the importance of not weakening the Renewable Fuel Standard
Kevin Skunes is from Arthur, ND and is a relative with a very good relationship with Governor Doug Burgum. So the big question is why didn’t Burgum sign the letter along with all of those other farm state governors? It isn’t a stretch to assume Skunes asked, but Burgum must have refused. If so, the question is, why?
We all know that the oil industry is the political lifeblood for the ND Republican party with campaign contributions freely flowing to federal, state, and local officials. Last year, ND Petroleum Council President, Ron Ness hosted a fundraiser for House Majority Leader Al Carlson. In trying to convince Congressman Kevin Cramer to change his mind and jump in the U.S. Senate race, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources committed to being Cramer’s finance chair. And the American Petroleum Institute dedicates a great deal of its effort attacking the RFS.
So does the oil industry have their hooks so deep into Burgum that even his good friend couldn’t pry them out? The RFS is on the line for corn farmers and ND ethanol plants. If President Trump pulls the rug from them, they’ll all be wondering why their Governor refused to support them.