Dorgan, Hulshof, biodiesel consultants give views on Trump, tax reform
SAN DIEGO — How should the biodiesel industry and everyone else in agriculture and renewable energy try to find success with President Donald Trump and his team?
Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., former Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., energy consultant Jim Massie, tax expert Tim Urban and farm lobbyist Tom Hance spoke at the National Biodiesel Board’s national conference in San Diego, saying biodiesel should be sold as a success story and that Trump’s promised tax reform should include a biodiesel tax credit that moves from blenders to producers.
But they started off by saying Trump is such an unprecedented phenomenon that they are not sure how the early months of the his administration will proceed.
Asked by Anne Steckel, the NBB vice president of federal affairs, what to expect of Trump’s presidency, Dorgan said, “I don’t know. My head is still exploding.”
Dorgan, who is now with the law firm of Arent Fox and a consultant to NBB, added that he hopes Trump is a success, but “What is going to happen, Lord only knows. We’ve never had a president who before he gets out of bed starts tweeting. He is changing the rules, but again we want it to go well for our country.”
Dorgan said he hopes Trump and his appointees “will embrace biodiesel and brand it as their own,” but the industry needs to understand “this is an opportunity but also a challenge.”
“Is the tweet the new fireside chat?” Hulshof asked in a reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s new way of communicating directly with the American people via radio broadcast during the Great Depression and World War II.
Hulshof, now with Kit Bond Strategies and also a consultant to NBB, said his remarks should be taken with a grain of salt because he is a fan of several losing sports team and was a supporter of Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich in the early stages of the Republican race for the nomination.
But Hulshof noted that before he was a member of Congress he was a prosecutor, and used to tell juries in murder cases that they were in a novel and that they would write the last chapter.
“This is a novel and it has not been written yet,” Hulshof said, telling the biodiesel executives, service providers and soybean growers they need to be involved.
Referring to the biodiesel tax credit that Congress did not renew before it expired on Dec. 31, Hulshof said, “The tax credit is gone. You and I are going to help write that chapter.”
Hulshof said he was reassured earlier that day when Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., asked Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who is Trump’s nominee to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, how he would handle the Renewable Fuel Standard, and Pruitt said he would honor the intent of Congress.
Noting that people in Washington try to find a period in history with which to compare the present, Hulshof said that when he first served in the House, Bill Clinton was president and the focus was on him until the Republicans won control of Congress.
Even though the current focus is on Trump, “I think Congress has become extremely relevant on issues that affect our industry,” Hulfshof said.
Dorgan also noted that even though Trump has said he believes climate change is a hoax, Pruitt did not say that at his confirmation hearing.
Jim Massie, who runs his own energy firm and is a consultant to NBB, said he is checking in frequently with people he knows on the Trump transition team and who have been interviewed for positions in the administration.
Massie said his sources have all reported the same views on Trump: The new president believes if you want to be a change agent you cannot come from Washington and you can’t want a job when you are finished with the administration.
Trump “has assembled a team with an overarching message,” Massie said.
When he has asked interviewees to tell him “what the interviews are like,” Massie said, they have all reported similar elements: “Do we have chemistry? Do I like you? Do we get along? Am I clear that you are going to do what I tell you are my policies and understand I will fire you if you don’t do what I say?”
Massie said he believes Trump is “truly a businessman, he is a man who listens” and that his statement that the government needs to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it at the same time is an example of that.
“I believe he is a man who can be educated. We are an industry that has a chance to work with this administration,” Massie said.
But he added, Trump also “will hear differing points of view” and people in the biodiesel industry will have to remind him that farmers “pulled him over” in key states and that when he saw revitalization in some places it was due to the biodiesel industry.
Massie reminded the attendees that the American Petroleum Institute “doesn’t see eye to eye with us” and will be seeking Trump’s ear.
Investor Carl Icahn, who has been named a Trump adviser, “has some fairly strong opinions about what has to be done with the RFS,” Massie said. “Icahn’s voice is really beginning to resonate in (Trump’s) office and suite.”
“I don’t view the president as likely to go back on what he said about the RFS, but there is plenty of wiggle room. So we have to hold his feet to the fire,” Massie added.