Trump to meet senators to discuss biofuels policy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will lead a delegation of lawmakers in a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday to argue for changes to the nation’s biofuels policy to protect oil refining jobs.

The meeting comes after the Environmental Protection Agency last month announced a slight increase in the amount of biofuels that refiners are required to blend into the nation’s fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), bowing to the demands of ethanol makers and their supporters.

Refiners oppose the RFS because they say it cuts into their market for petroleum-based fuels and costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in blending expenses.

“(President Trump) will listen to the concerns of senators who represent these workers, with the hope of finding common ground on both sides of this debate,” said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman.

The meeting will include EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the White House said.

The RFS requires refiners to blend increasing volumes of biofuels, mainly corn-based ethanol, into the nation’s fuel supply every year. It was introduced more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush as a way to boost U.S. agriculture, slash energy imports and cut emissions.

The refining industry has requested tweaks to the policy that would shift the blending burden from refiners to supply terminals, or allow ethanol exports to be counted against annual blending quotas.

EPA leadership had considered some of the changes this year, but rejected them under pressure from Midwestern lawmakers.

Cruz and eight other Republican Senators from states with oil refineries, including Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, requested the meeting with Trump on biofuels in a letter in October.

Cruz said he would block Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey’s nomination to a key post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture until he gets the meeting. A Cruz spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources briefed on the meeting said it could set the stage for negotiations over possible legislation to overhaul the RFS. But they pointed out that any measures could have trouble getting through Congress without cooperation from representatives of the corn belt.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said this week he was not invited to the meeting, and has said it would be “a waste of time.”

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe

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