Over 80 people testified at an all-day "Hearing in the Heartland" on January 23 in Des Moines. The public hearing was held by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to highlight the widespread bipartisan opposition to a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the volume requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The RFS, passed by Congress in 2007, calls for certain amounts of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the nation's motor fuel supply each year. EPA wants to cut the requirement in 2014 to 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels, 3 billion gallons less than Congress required in the law.
The 60-day public comment period set by EPA expired on January 28. EPA officials and the Obama administration are now evaluating all those comments and EPA is expected to make a decision sometime this spring. An estimated 15,000 comments have been received by EPA regarding its proposal issued in November 2013 to reduce the RFS.
Following is a summary of public comments sent to EPA by various Iowa officials and other renewable fuel supporters.
Branstad, Reynolds send RFS comments to President Obama, EPA
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy submitting comments and studies that support maintaining a robust Renewable Fuel Standard. The submission, which includes comments from Democrats and Republicans across the Midwest, came on January 28, the final day the EPA would accept comments on the agency's proposed rule to roll-back the RFS.
Branstad and Reynolds wrote: "We strongly encourage you to revise and increase the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Renewable Fuel Standard volume obligation levels to thresholds that will demonstrate your continued commitment to growing the production and use of renewable fuels. A robust RFS is needed to provide the federal policy predictability that rural America needs to continue investments in renewable fuels that diversify our nation's energy portfolio, clean the air, provide value-added opportunities to various bio-stocks, give consumers lower-cost choices at the fuel pump, and create good paying jobs that empower rewarding careers."
The letter continues, "As state leaders, we are keenly focused on helping create a business and public policy environment that drives job growth throughout the state – in communities both large and small, urban and rural. We share the concerns of many Iowans and citizens throughout the Midwest that the EPA's current proposal will erode the healthy and stable agricultural economy in rural America and abandon the various public policy benefits that flow from the RFS."
Branstad's letter includes comments from Iowa's entire Congressional delegation
The letter includes comments from Iowa's entire Congressional Delegation, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp, Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino, Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Fredrickson, South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch, Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, in addition to local farmers and business leaders.
The letter from Branstad and Reynolds concludes: "We appreciate your past support on renewable fuels and the commitments you have pledged. We hope you will protect the RFS, renew your commitment, and stand strong along with us, consumers, and agricultural producers in supporting American-made renewable fuels."
Iowa Secretary of Ag, says cutting the RFS would cripple Iowa and the Midwest economy
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey told the White House that reducing the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the gasoline supply this year would "significantly damage" the state's economy and put consumers at risk of higher prices at the gas pump.
The "proposal would move us backward on both the ethanol and biodiesel requirements for 2014," Northey said in his public statement sent to EPA and the White House. "I strongly encourage the EPA to withdraw this proposal, establish the 2014 blending levels consistent with current law and do so in a timely manner so that the industry is not further damaged by this misguided proposal."
Northey said trimming the blending mandate would be a favor for the oil industry and would be a step back in the Obama administration's efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and other harmful emissions.
Attorney General Tom Miller urges EPA to maintain Renewable Fuel Standard
The Iowa Attorney General sent his comments to EPA, urging agency officials to decline to waive the national Renewable Fuel Standard. "It's clear that Congress intended to establish the RFS to foster increased production of renewable fuels, and waiving the standard would contravene the intent of Congress," Miller said.
He says the purpose of the RFS when Congress wrote the law in 2007 was to "move the United States toward greater energy independence and security" and to "increase the production of clean renewable fuels."
In his letter Miller wrote that the federal statute establishing the RFS, contained within the Clean Air Act, "is not ambiguous." Miller noted that, according to the Clean Air Act, the EPA is authorized to waive the RFS only when implementation of the statutory standards would severely harm the economy or when there is an "inadequate domestic supply"—not distribution capacity—of renewable fuel, not blended fuel.
"The production of renewable fuels is a critical part of Iowa's economy -- providing a key market for agricultural crops and creating thousands of jobs," Miller wrote. "If the EPA waived national fuel standards, not because of an inadequate supply of renewable fuel, but rather because of limited distribution capacity of blended fuels, it would be removing the incentives adopted by Congress to foster increased production of renewable fuels and greater energy independence."