Farmers and ethanol producers gave Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a rough reception in South Dakota, accusing him of undermining the industry that's a key part of the state's economy.
About 200 people rallied in Sioux Falls on Wednesday, urging Pruitt to support federal ethanol mandates, the Argus Leader reported. They criticized him for granting waivers to oil producers that allow them to ignore ethanol-blending rules. The renewable fuel standards have for years been essential to driving ethanol production.
"We're here today to bring awareness to everyone in the state of South Dakota and the Upper Midwest that the administrator is not doing his job," Houghton-area farmer Troy Knecht said.
Meanwhile, Pruitt toured a farm in Reliance and spoke with about 50 farmers. He told the group it's important to understand that the EPA works with other government agencies to determine who receives a waiver.
"It's not a decision the EPA makes in isolation," he said. He said the agency has seen "a spike in applications."
"A spike? That's more than a spike. That's a moonshot," farmer David Fremark told Pruitt.
Many farmers who spoke to Pruitt said they felt the waiver increase was hurting their farms and their income, the Mitchell Daily Republic reported . Pruitt's visit to the farm wasn't publicized and was closed to the public. A Daily Republic reporter was turned away but later allowed access.
"Two of these companies that they handed waivers to made over a billion dollars last year," Fremark told the newspaper. "I don't know what kind of hardship that is, but it's not like the hardship that I'm used to on the farm."
Pruitt joked about his reception.
"As I came to South Dakota, there were a few billboards greeting me, and they didn't say 'I hope you're having fun,'" Pruitt said. Instead, the administrator said he saw messages imploring him to support ethanol over big oil.