By Rick Manning
There’s a policy issue that’s activated thousands of union workers across the Philadelphia region and beyond, and it could create a real problem for President Biden. With the 2024 election quickly approaching, the question now becomes, will any Republicans take notice?
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has been a political problem for President Biden since his first day in office. Despite the president’s roots in Pennsylvania and Delaware, where independent refineries support thousands of union jobs, Biden has largely followed in the footsteps of his predecessors regarding how he treats America’s refinery workers.
In the last several years, unions representing thousands of refinery workers have urged the Biden administration to fix the broken Renewable Fuel Standard, the unpopular ethanol mandate driving up gas prices and grocery costs. Instead of answering refinery workers’ pleas for commonsense policy reform, the Biden administration doubled down on the broken RFS. Adding insult to injury, the agency’s final rule came days after the president rallied with union workers outside of Philadelphia.
As the final year of his first term approaches, Biden is bowing to big ethanol lobbying interests over thousands of refinery workers from his home states. Despite his deep connection with labor unions, the president has married himself to a big government mandate that hurts labor unions. When will Republicans take notice?
The very same refinery workers who rallied for Biden in 2020 helped make Donald Trump president in 2016. These thousands of hardworking men and women living on the outskirts of Philadelphia represent a powerful electorate and rallying force.
In the past, we saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) be a champion for refinery workers and carry their cause to victory over former President Donald Trump—in Iowa, of all places. In 2017, the senator introduced legislation that would cap RFS compliance costs. He was soon joined by eight Republican senators – all but one of whom are still in office – to elevate the issue at the White House. Later, thousands of refinery workers in the Philadelphia region rallied around Sen. Cruz, recognizing the senators’ efforts to save their jobs.
Sen. Cruz was far from alone in his efforts. Nearly a decade ago, former Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and former Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced bipartisan legislation that would repeal the RFS in its entirety. In March 2020, another former Senate EPW Chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), pursued an amendment to cap RFS compliance costs.
While a full repeal of the government mandate is unlikely, interestingly, a group of Democratic members of Congress from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey have introduced legislation that would provide a fixed-price compliance credit. This commonsense bill mirrors previous Republican efforts. It would provide some relief to refiners and protect union jobs. But it is unclear whether any Republicans are on board.
Today, this cause is up for grabs for Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail because the Biden administration is failing to deliver. In June, the Biden administration finalized a proposal that could result in fuel shortages, American energy and security risks, and increased food and fuel prices. The final rule incited outcries from labor-backed groups who lamented Biden’s move to double down on the broken program and perpetuate the ‘broken status quo.’
American refinery and union workers will be key swing voters this cycle, and their decision on who to support could hinge on which candidate will most likely protect their jobs from an out-of-control ethanol mandate. It’s time for Republicans to take notice that the Biden coalition cannot hold together if they challenge it by mobilizing on this issue ahead of the 2024 election.
Rick Manning is the is the President of Americans for Limited Government.
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