SIOUX FALLS - While Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was elsewhere in the state Wednesday, agricultural advocates gathered in Sioux Falls with an event to urge Pruitt to stop standing in the way of ethanol efforts.
Farmers, biofuel leaders and local politicians gathered at the Falls Park Farmers Market after a tractor parade from Howard Wood Field through downtown Sioux Falls, where a crowd of about 200 held a rally against Pruitt's inaction, according to the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.
The association's president, Troy Knecht, of Houghton, said times are tough enough for farmers and producers in the state, let alone having potential issues with the EPA on ethanol production. He specifically cited President Donald Trump's repeated promises to both continue the Renewable Fuel Standard and to make E15 fuel available year-round.
"I don't know if there's a disconnect between (Trump) and the administrator but something's got to change," Knecht said. "There's a lot of uncertainty right now with trade. An easy fix to uncertainty with trade would be to grant us the E15 waiver that we're looking for."
State Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, said the state's hard work to lead the way in biofuel production should not be slowed by bureaucrats in Washington.
"Small and rural communities are the backbone of South Dakota, and they deserve better from the EPA," said Peterson, who serves as the state's assistant majority leader in the House.
"Scott Pruitt is in South Dakota today, meeting with another group. He skirted in, behind our Congressional delegation and our governor's office," Knecht said. "It's been very quiet. And 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."
Also speaking Wednesday was Republican Congressional candidate Dusty Johnson, who won the primary election convincingly last week. The Mitchell resident running for Congress cited his time as a former South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner as his basis for understanding that American producers and consumers appreciate freedom.
"What is the compelling public interest that stands between consumers and the product that they want to put in their vehicles," he asked. "Do we think that regulations are needed to protect our vehicles from E15? No. You know that and I know that, and evidence proves that E15 is fantastic for vehicles."
Johnson said he appreciated Pruitt's philosophy to limit government regulation but said the position on biofuels needed change.
"Administrator Pruitt, welcome to South Dakota," he said. "But we have to ask you why can't you put that same freedom-loving approach to bear on E15?"
The RFS requires refiners to blend biofuels, or purchase blending credits from other companies, which is meant to help farmers, and cut pollution and fuel imports. Pruitt has been criticized by Midwestern Republican senators for allowing the EPA to give out waivers to larger refineries to exempt themselves from having to blend biofuels.
Wednesday was a particularly newsy day regarding Pruitt, even though he was in South Dakota.
The Washington Post reported that he had a top aide help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, eventually securing her a position at a conservative political group - the Judicial Crisis Network - that has backed him for years. Pruitt's wife left the job earlier this year, which was described as temporary by the political group.
Later in the day, the Oklahoman's support dwindled from one his allies, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe. He told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that it might be time for Pruitt to leave his EPA job.
"All these things that are coming out are really not good things," Inhofe said in the interview. "I've kind of taken the position that if that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I'm going to say, 'Well, Scott, you're not doing your job.' And hopefully that will change."
Ingraham, herself a key media ally of Trump, said Pruitt was "hurting the president."
The administrator is the subject of at least a dozen ongoing government investigations, but as of last week, Trump was still standing behind Pruitt.
Pruitt was also under fire this week by a conservative nonprofit group from Iowa, which created a 30-second television ad this week and said "for the good of the country, Pruitt must go."
Those ads reportedly were set to air in South Dakota and Nebraska, both of which were states Pruitt was reportedly set to visit this week, according to The Washington Post.
The EPA typically does not disclose Pruitt's whereabouts, and did not publicize Pruitt's trip to South Dakota on Wednesday until a tweet from shortly after 3 p.m. from Pruitt's official account.