By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden late on Tuesday attacked President Donald Trump's record on ethanol, saying his administration's recent moves to help the industry were too little, too late and transparently political.
Biden said in an exclusive statement to Reuters that the Trump administration's announcement this week that it would reject requests from oil refiners for retroactive waivers exempting them from biofuel blending laws was not enough to outweigh several years of granting large numbers of such waivers - which biofuel producers say erode demand for their products.
"Lip service 50 days before an election won't make up for nearly four years of retroactive damage that's decimated our trade economy and forced ethanol plants to shutter," Biden's statement said.
A representative for Trump's campaign did not immediately comment on Biden's remarks.
The former vice president's criticism underscored the political significance of ethanol, a corn-based fuel, ahead of the Nov. 3 election, and came as both campaigns seek to win over Farm Belt voters.
Trump's Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday that it rejected scores of requests from refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from their blending obligations under the nation's biofuel policy.
The directive was billed as a win for corn farmers, who sell much of their crop into the ethanol market and who have been hard hit by the impact of Trump's trade wars.
Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels like ethanol into the nation's fuel mix, or buy credits from those that do.
Small facilities can apply for waivers if they can prove they would be financially harmed from the requirements.
Trump's administration has roughly quadrupled the number of waivers it has granted to refiners, and has given them to facilities with highly profitable owners like Exxon Mobil Corp and billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
Biden's team has been advised in recent weeks from allies to take a strong stance in favor of biofuels, Reuters previously reported. The Biden campaign said it had organized a press call for Wednesday about ethanol, led by Midwestern politicians.
Biden's statement on Tuesday also hit Trump for not yet announcing any decision on blending volume obligations under the RFS for next year, or a decision on waiver requests for compliance years 2019 and 2020.
(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)