JOHNSTON -- Chuck Grassley’s response was blunt.
“They screwed us.”
That is how Iowa’s senior U.S. senator feels about the federal government’s 31 exemptions to oil companies, allowing them to circumvent the federal ethanol mandate.
Grassley was asked about the waivers Friday during taping of this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television.
“They issued 31 waivers compared to less than 10 waivers during all the Obama years, and we thought that was bad,” Grassley said. “What's really bad isn’t a waiver, it’s that it is being granted to people that really aren’t (experiencing) hardship, and that is where it ought to be identified.”
Handled by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the waivers were designed to help small oil refineries that might struggle to comply with the federal mandate that a prescribed share of corn-based ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
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Use of the waivers has exploded under Republican President Donald Trump, whose EPA has granted 85 waivers in three years. The EPA granted just 23 waivers in the previous three years under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Republicans, including Grassley, have fallen short of criticizing Trump for the waivers, instead laying the blame at the feet of Trump’s EPA directors. Grassley on Friday said the number of waivers could have been even bigger, that he does not think the EPA would have issued the six waiver denials were it not for Trump pressing the EPA after Iowa farmers and political leaders pressed the president.
However, Reuters reported Friday that Trump called EPA head Andrew Wheeler last week and instructed him to grant the 31 small refinery waivers.
While discussing the economy, Grassley said he does not believe a recession is on the horizon despite a growing body of economic indicators showing and economists who believe a recession is imminent.
“You know what, reading business pages for the last six or seven days I have come to the conclusion we’re trying to talk ourselves into a recession,” Grassley said. “Now, I do think that the uncertainty of trade with China is a big factor in the slowdown of the economy, but I don't think there's a recession, particularly in America, around the corner.”