Pruitt resigns; biofuel backers hopeful for change

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, a move that biofuels backers hope will lead to a fresh start for the Renewable Fuels Standard.

President Donald Trump announced Pruitt?s resignation over Twitter Thursday afternoon.

Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, has been at the center of a number of spending and ethical controversies, which appear to have played a role in his stepping aside. In his resignation letter to the president, he said ?unrelenting attacks? have taken a ?sizable toll? on him and his family.

In Iowa, though, it hasn?t been spending practices that have drawn criticism so much as the EPA?s implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the law that requires a certain level of biofuels to be blended into the nation?s fuel supply.

Lawmakers from farm states say Pruitt has been undermining the promises Trump made about the RFS during the 2016 presidential campaign by granting waivers to the law for refineries. They say the moves have dampened demand and hurt farmers.

?President Trump made the right decision. Administrator Pruitt?s ethical scandals and his undermining of the President?s commitment to biofuels and Midwest farmers were distracting from the agency?s otherwise strong progress to free the nation of burdensome and harmful government regulations,? said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Grassley, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, both voted for Pruitt?s confirmation after saying they had received assurances on the RFS.

And Pruitt did draw praise from many in the agriculture industry and Republican lawmakers in Iowa for suspending the Obama administration?s controversial Waters of the U.S. rule, a measure aimed at clarifying the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

However, the battles over the RFS left a bad taste with some of those same lawmakers, as did the spending allegations. Ernst described Pruitt in June as ?about as swampy as you get.?

In addition to announcing Pruitt?s resignation, the president tweeted that Andrew Wheeler, the EPA?s deputy administrator, would take over as acting administrator of the agency. Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist, but ethanol backers said Thursday they were hopeful that Pruitt?s departure will mean a new start.

Ernst tweeted Thursday, ?I have confidence that Andrew Wheeler will be a good partner at #EPA and I look forward to working with him on the #RFS.?

Grassley said he hoped Wheeler would ?restore this Administration?s standing with farmers and the biofuels industry.? Some industry officials said they were hopeful, too, such as Iowa Renewable Fuels Association?s Monte Shaw.

?I think it?s a great opportunity for a reset of the conversation,? said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Pruitt has drawn fire over the RFS in recent weeks because of waivers the agency has been granting to refineries Biofuels groups say that the waivers lowered demand for renewable fuels.

Last month, when the EPA issued new volume requirements for 2019 that were higher than the previous year, industry officials and supporters in Congress were nonetheless skeptical. And they were upset that the volumes that had been waived for some refineries weren?t reallocated to others.

Earlier, lawmakers and industry officials were angry over the idea that EPA might count ethanol exports toward the legal requirement. The idea eventually was abandoned.