February 28, 2018 / 7:49 PM / 6 months ago

US Ag Secretary seeks to calm farmers after Trump biofuel talks

NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told an agriculture conference on Wednesday that he and President Donald Trump support the nation’s biofuels policy, and that any reports to the contrary are “fake news.”

Perdue made the comments a day after Trump hosted a meeting with Cabinet officials and senators to discuss potential changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard to help refiners who say they are struggling under the program. The RFS requires refiners to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the nation’s fuel.

That meeting yielded no deal.

“I can tell you Trump stands with corn farmers, biofuel farmers and the RFS,” Perdue told an audience at the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, California, according to a recording heard by Reuters. “I stand with him and with you.”

He said reports that the administration does not support the RFS are “fake news.” “I have not, will not, diminish demand for ethanol or hurt the RFS,” Perdue said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that Perdue made the comments.

Trump’s meeting on Tuesday reflected rising concern in the White House over the current state of the RFS, which has increasingly divided two of Trump’s most important constituencies: the energy industry and rural farmers.

A refining company in Pennsylvania, which often plays a key role deciding the outcome in national elections, last month blamed the regulation for its bankruptcy, bolstering charges by the industry that it is unfair and costly.

The White House meeting was held at the request of Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and was intended to get Chuck Grassley and Jodi Ernst, both Republican senators from the corn state Iowa, to accept significant changes to the program aimed at providing financial relief to refiners. (Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw Editing by Frances Kerry)

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