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Iowa’s farmers know what it takes to tackle the ups and downs of global markets and uncertain weather. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to safeguard against hostile bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency attacks on homegrown biofuels are so discouraging for rural communities, particularly under an administration that offered a strong, public commitment to our farmers.

For those who rely on ethanol producers to provide a stable market for corn, and thousands of rural manufacturing workers at our state’s biofuel plants, the EPA’s refinery exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard are a betrayal. The agency’s exemptions allow oil companies to take control over a growing share of the energy market, siphoning income away from rural communities.

With farm debt rising under the weight of historic flooding and costly trade barriers, Iowa families simply cannot afford to shoulder the added burden of handouts to oil giants like Andeavor, Chevron, Exxon, and Carl Ichan’s CVR.

The latest round of 31 exemptions destroyed 1.43 billion gallons of biofuel demand. Over the last three years, the EPA has now granted a total of 85 handouts to the oil sector, enough to destroy 4.04 billion gallons of biofuel demand — the market for more than 1.4 billion bushels of American corn.

Just last month, Plymouth Energy in Merrill halted production and more plants throughout the heartland are now threatened. Even the nation’s largest producer, POET, was forced to close a plant in the heart of Indiana, while cutting production across six other states, including Iowa.

In fact, in 2018, U.S. ethanol consumption fell for the first time in 20 years, while oil companies enjoyed the highest profits in five years. There’s nothing wrong with oil companies making a profit, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of Iowans and rural communities across the Midwest who are counting on stable market access for homegrown biofuels.

President Trump is aware of the problem. Just a few days ago, he tweeted, “Farmers are going to be so happy when they see what we are doing for Ethanol.” But for Iowa, there’s only one path forward that will make a difference. The EPA must restore lost gallons by 2020. Other promises won’t carry much weight — especially with this EPA’s history of ignoring rural priorities.

News reports also indicate the EPA is working on a “reset” of the 14-year-old Renewable Fuel Standard. If that plan looks anything like the agency’s near-zero-growth biofuel targets for 2020, then we’re in deep trouble. The approach favored by oil companies would flatline biofuel demand and have an economically stifling effect on rural communities.

This is no longer about politics. It’s about protecting our communities, our economic security, and a rural way of life. I believe that President Trump sincerely wants to be a champion for farmers, but he can only do that by standing up for rural communities and demanding his EPA restore those lost gallons immediately.

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Sen. Annette Sweeney, R-District 25, of Buckeye, is vice chair of the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee.

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