Farmers, politicians, biofuel industry representatives and other supporters of renewable fuels filled The World Food Prize's Hall of Laureates in Des Moines on January 23 to voice their opposition to a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the Renewable Fuel Standard or RFS. The hearing, organized by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and a coalition of Iowa's elected officials, sent a clear message to the EPA and others in Washington D.C. that jobs will be lost and the rural economy of the Midwest will be hurt if the lower RFS standards are adopted.
About 150 people attended the day-long hearing, where more than 80 people testified, voicing their concerns through oral statements and written submissions. Government officials, farmers and others from Iowa and five other states gave testimony, asking EPA to repeal the proposed change.
Branstad opened the hearing with a passionate plea for the Obama Administration to protect the RFS. "Renewable fuels have created high-paying jobs and rewarding careers right here in the agricultural heartland of America," he said. "EPA's proposal on the Renewable Fuel Standard would have a devastating effect on the growth of job creation. It is estimated this reduction would cost 45,000 jobs in the U.S. We are trying to create jobs, not destroy jobs in this country. Thousands of families would have undue financial stress because of this decision. The EPA should not trigger that kind of a negative downturn in rural America."
Opportunity for public to submit comments to EPA regarding the RFS is scheduled to end January 28
In November 2013 EPA announced its proposal to reduce the RFS. EPA oversees the nation's Renewable Fuel Standard which requires a certain amount of renewable fuel be blended in the nation's gasoline and diesel fuel supply each year. EPA is currently holding a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, which is scheduled to close on Tuesday January 28. EPA will then evaluate the comments received and is likely to make a decision sometime this spring.
The proposed change, if EPA adopts it, would cut the biofuel requirement in 2014 to 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and other renewable fuels, 3 billion gallons less than Congress required in the law when it was passed in 2007. This would mark the first-ever reduction in the RFS which requires fuel refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels into the nation's gasoline and diesel supply through 2022. Requirements for traditional biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol, would be cut to 13.3 billion from the 14.4 billion gallons the RFS currently calls for in 2014.
Branstad: "We're not asking the Obama administration to change policy on the RFS. We're just asking them to keep the RFS intact the way Congress intended it to be when the law was passed in 2007."
Branstad and others who testified criticized officials in Washington D.C. for being out of touch with rural America and not understanding how the RFS change would affect rural economies. "The proposed rule by the EPA would have direct effect on Iowa's 43 ethanol plants and 12 biodiesel plants and scores of other renewable fuel facilities and related businesses and industries all across this agricultural heartland," said Branstad. "I don't think in Washington, D.C. they follow the price of corn. Well, here we do."
Branstad has sent letters to federal officials, asking that they use common sense regarding their RFS decision. He urged president Obama and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to listen to the people of Iowa and the heartland. "Biofuels are good for consumers because they hold down the price of fuel at the pump, and they're good for America because they reduce our nation's reliance on imported oil," said Branstad. "And they're good for the environment because they provide cleaner air."
Referring to the Obama administration, the Iowa governor added, "The president launched his campaign for president right here in Iowa, and was a supporter of renewable fuels. We need his continued support of a robust and strong renewable fuel standard, just as EPA has always done in the past. We're not asking them to change policy. We're asking them to stick with what has worked."
Other speakers who testified at the "Hearing in the Heartland" echoed similar sentiments
Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, called the EPA proposal illogical and said renewable fuels are not only good for the U.S. economy but good for consumers and the nation's independence from foreign oil. For all the benefits the renewable fuel industry provides—creating jobs for thousands of people, and inspiring new innovation from those who want a clean energy future—you'd think the federal government would support the RFS and keep it intact, he said.
But the oil companies have a strong lobby in Washington D.C., notes King. Oil companies are generating record profits and they look at biofuels as competition. The oil industry doesn't want to see the renewable fuels industry grow because they don't own it. The petroleum industry isn't just lobbying to reduce the RFS; they want to completely do away with the RFS. Then someday they may be able to buy the biofuels industry for pennies on the dollar and own it. Then they'd have a monopoly on America's gas tank and make consumers pay more at the pump.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said the EPA rule "is a perfect example of an out-of-touch, broken Washington, D.C." Shaw added, "The proposal was clearly a political decision made in the Obama White House driven by the false fear of higher gasoline prices."
If EPA reduces the amount of ethanol and biodiesel blended in the nation's fuel supply, motorists will pay more at the pump
For renewable fuels it's coming down to the wire, as EPA has a January 28 deadline for public comments. He noted, "You have only a few more days to express your strong opposition to the plan put forth by President Obama and EPA to reduce the amount of renewable fuel blended in our nation's gas supply. It's simple. If they reduce the blend in the gasoline supply, we pay more at the pump and people can't afford that."
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says the EPA proposal to cut the RFS will likely move forward unless President Obama stops it. "The White House is going to have to step in, the president personally. If he doesn't take action, this will be a big win for Big Oil. And I can't see the president wanting this, since he's been critical of Big Oil, wanting to tax the petroleum industry more and not allowing them to drill on public land. I would think that he would not want to give Big Oil a big victory."
Grassley, Harkin join bipartisan group in calling on EPA to revise Renewable Fuel Standard
Iowa's Democrat U.S. Senator Tom Harkin joined Iowa Republican Grassley on January 23 in a bipartisan group of 31 Senators who sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. The letter is part of an ongoing effort to urge the agency to make changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) 2014 rule. The senators share concern that EPA's proposed rule will discourage investment and hurt job growth and rural communities across the country.
Pam Johnson, immediate past president of the National Corn Growers Association who farms with her family in northeast Iowa, testified at Thursday's hearing in Des Moines. "For 2014, the EPA has proposed a 1.4 billion gallon reduction in how much corn ethanol will be required under the RFS, the federal law that helps get domestic, renewable, cleaner-burning corn ethanol blended in the nation's fuel supply. This will reduce already-low corn prices and negatively affect planting decisions in 2014."
Submit your comments now to help protect the future of ethanol and biodiesel
"We need your help today," says Johnson. "EPA is accepting comments on the proposal until 11:59 p.m. EST January 28, 2014. We urge anyone who is interested in this issue to send a response and tell EPA it needs to maintain the RFS for corn ethanol at 14.4 billion gallons. Your comment will be public and discoverable on the Internet. Please go to our NCGA website and take five minutes to send a brief response directly to the EPA." That link is here EPA is Accepting Comments on Federal Renewable Fuels Standard.
Ron Heck, a member of the Iowa Soybean Association board of directors, spoke on behalf of his family and the ISA during the hearing. He spoke about the benefits and the accomplishments of biodiesel. "We have been doing our part, exceeding the RFS targets every year," Heck said. "It is so obvious that it is hard to believe, but the facts are there. It is not a fantasy of the future. This industry showed promise 10 years ago and has now exceeded expectations. I urge EPA to establish a volume requirement at least consistent with this year's projected production of 1.7 billion gallons of biodiesel."
EPA's proposed lowering of the RFS Volume Fuel Obligations for biodiesel would adversely affect soybean farmers. The proposed biomass-based diesel level for 2014 and 2015 of 1.28 billion gallons is of particular concern since it's less than the amount produced by the industry this year. Biodiesel leaders fear the result would be reduced demand for soybean oil, which accounts for about half of all U.S. biodiesel production. EPA also proposes to reduce the total "advanced biofuels" requirement, which would limit the opportunities for biodiesel. "Today's hearing is timely, given that Jan. 28 is the deadline for farmers to submit their comments on EPA's RFS proposal," said Heck. To learn more about how the RFS reduction would affect biodiesel and to submit comments, click here.