Trump EPA Pick Andrew Wheeler Gets Caught Between Oil and Corn Interests

February 19, 2019, 1:23 PM UTC

Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is caught between Big Oil and Big Corn. That could affect his Senate confirmation hearing.

The fracas started in December 2018 when EPA staff suggested the agency reduce amounts of ethanol, typically produced by processing corn, that oil companies had to blend into fuel from the current 15 billion gallons to 14.3 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Wheeler reportedly said no because a new agency proposal could remove a ban on summer sales of E15 fuel, which is 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol. Currently, the mix is prohibited for sale from June 1 to September 15 because of concerns that it can increase smog. Many gasoline retailers don’t want to change warning labels and pumps twice a year and so have steered clear of the blend.

Lifting the ban would likely increase the availability of E15, which would mean a boost in ethanol sales and, therefore, more revenue for corn growers.

The oil industry doesn’t like ethanol mandates because it means selling less gasoline and forces the oil companies to spend money on ethanol, according to Reuters.

Corn growers had been angry with former EPA head Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July 2018, when the agency had increased the number of ethanol waivers it gave to smaller refineries, lowering the amount of ethanol sold and, therefore, reduced sales of corn.

Five senators from oil-producing states had sent a letter on February 11 to Wheeler, asking about biofuel policies. The group, let by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), had said that his position could influencer their votes on his nomination, expected at the end of February.

Wheeler already has the reputation of resisting climate change initiatives. His confirmation needs 60 senators in favor to avoid the chance of being blocked. A loss of support from five Republicans would make hitting that number more difficult.