Years of EPA and Trump administration abuse of waivers and exemptions for ethanol may be coming to a halt. In a late election-year announcement, the EPA released a statement saying they would “review and adjudicate petitions for small refinery exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program.” They would be “denying petitions.” Years of abuse were met with years of silence from North Dakota’s Republican leaders. With the prospect of a reversal, they finally found their voice.

Governor Doug Burgum, Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, and Congressman Kelly Armstrong shrunk from their duty to stand up for farmers. While leaders from other farm states spoke out, they sat in silence. In 2018, a bipartisan letter was sent to the EPA telling them to stop the waiver abuse. Leaders who had the courage to speak up included: Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, Tina Smith, and Amy Klobuchar, Republican John Thune of South Dakota, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. No Hoeven. No Cramer.

One month earlier, March 0f 2018, six Republican Governors from the heartland sent President Trump a letter asking him to reject these RFS waiver changes offered by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Burgum stayed away from calls to action.

Following the letter from Republican Governors, the National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Skunes issued a press release thanking those Governors for their leadership. Skunes is from Arthur, ND and is a relative with a very good relationship with Governor Doug Burgum. Or so I’m told. Why didn’t Burgum sign the letter?

Apparently, if they can’t cheer on the administration, they keep quiet. Profiles in courage. With news the EPA will begin denying these waivers, Burgum finally spoke on the issue offering a tweet of gratitude.

$600 million a year contributed to ND’s economy by ethanol. With such a large impact on North Dakota, I’m curious why ND xPlains has been the only platform covering this important topic? More importantly, why in the world haven’t North Dakota’s Republican officeholders joined bipartisan efforts to support family farmers and biofuel producers when they needed them? Perhaps they care more about the oil industry’s political support.

There is no doubt lobbyists and prominent oil businessmen have a large influence on North Dakota politicians. Harold Hamm of Continental Resources was the finance chair for Kevin Cramer’s Senate bid. Ron Ness of the North Dakota Petroleum Council is a big backer and friend of Congressman Kelly Armstrong who also is heavily involved in the industry. Governor Burgum, as chair of the Land Board and Industrial Commission, has punted on collecting money owed from oil royalties for our public schools. Is this heavy influence keeping them silent on issues that have pitted our top two industries against each other?

That political influence has reached the White House. With word the waivers will begin being denied, President Trump and the EPA are considering cash aid for refineries denied waivers. According to Bloomberg, the plan is being developed within the EPA to satisfy oil interests. Big oil may get bailed out again.

It isn’t enough for elected officials to simply cheer when positive developments happen. When farmers and biofuel producers in North Dakota rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and fought these waivers they did it without the backing of North Dakota’s Republican leaders. Now, with a late election-year change likely undertaken to boost reelection support in farm country for the President they show up. Their years of silence were deafening.

Tyler Axness
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