Make some noise for the future of homegrown fuels

It took a lot more noise than our Midwestern friends were probably comfortable with, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took a big step back from a very destructive path. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of our champions in C...

It took a lot more noise than our Midwestern friends were probably comfortable with, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently took a big step back from a very destructive path. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of our champions in Congress – not to mention a host of governors – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had all the support he needed to reject,  in writing , several oil industry proposals designed to roll back competition from U.S. biofuels produced from farm crops and agricultural residue, like cobs and stalks.
The clincher was a nod directly from President Trump. According to a statement from the  White House , “President Donald J. Trump promised rural America that he would protect the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and has never wavered from that promise. The president has had constructive conversations with several key officials about the RFS over the past week, and he understands their concerns. The Trump administration will protect the RFS and ensure that our nations hardworking farmers continue to fuel America.”
The lesson here is that farmers and biofuel producers need to stay engaged and talk regularly to their elected officials in Washington. The oil lobby has a lot of pull behind closed doors, and they won’t hesitate to hijack the regulatory process. 
For example, months after the start of a formal rulemaking, the EPA unexpectedly issued a “Notice of Data Availability” drawing explicitly from oil industry submissions aimed  at slashing  U.S. production of biodiesel and advanced biofuels. Then it was revealed that oil lobbyists were pushing a scheme designed by Valero Refining to devalue all ethanol-blended fuels by  attaching biofuel credits  to existing ethanol exports. The goal was to flood the market with a billion extra credits that could be used by refiners to circumvent the law.
These efforts followed an attempt earlier this year to shift the “point of obligation” under the RFS. The ink was nearly dry on that deal,  crafted by refinery mogul Carl Icahn , when rural America caught wind of how the arcane maneuver would punish small fuel retailers while eliminating any incentive to offer ethanol blends at the pump.
What these efforts all have in common, other than a few refiners, is that they would help restore the petroleum monopoly over consumer options, raise fuel prices on drivers, and threaten to plunge rural America into an economic crisis during  the worst farm downturn  since the 1980s.
Thankfully, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt  rebuffed each  of these ideas in a recent letter to rural champions in the Senate. However, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Refiners are still pushing the agency to maintain harmful cuts contained in a  July proposal  for 2018 biofuel targets. Before releasing the plan, someone at the EPA got hold of the agency’s draft and  drew a red line  (literally) through any plans for year-over-year growth in biofuel production. Rejecting the advice of its own experts, the agency’s edits occurred after review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). They flatlined biodiesel and  cut the cellulosic goals  by about 25 percent from 2017 levels.
Keep in mind, cellulosic biofuels are produced from agricultural leftovers, creating a new revenue stream for hardworking farmers. After years of investment and innovation by companies like  POET  and  Novozymes , these fuels are poised to drive the next great wave of manufacturing across rural America.
Moreover, these fuels represent the future of America’s rise as the world’s largest biofuel producer. Thanks to the RFS, we displaced  500 million barrels  of imported oil last year, and the industry is just getting started. This leadership serves as a shield against efforts by Russia and OPEC to manipulate fuel prices, saving the average U.S. household about $142 in gasoline expenses, according to the  American Journal of Agricultural Economics .
That’s why the president  campaigned on a promise  to protect the RFS, increase rural job opportunities, and promote America’s leadership on homegrown biofuels. And that’s why he won waves of support across the heartland, where biofuels support  hundreds of thousands  of jobs. But for that vision to be realized, we must ensure that final targets for 2018 promote concrete growth in total biofuel production – with no cuts to cellulosic or starch-based ethanol. 
Getting that done takes a lot of noise. Just look at the last few months.

38 Senators  called on  the EPA to promote growth, and then Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds  penned a letter  co-signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. 
Reynolds and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts  personally traveled to Washington  to ensure that rural voters were not ignored. 

Illinois Senator Duckworth wrote a  guest column  in the newspaper and Indiana Senator Donnelly  pressed the issue  in the media.

South Dakota Senator Thune, Nebraska Senator Fischer, and Iowa Senators Ernst and Grassley all  demanded a meeting  with the EPA and refused to take no for an answer. 
That’s what it takes to get heard in Washington, and that’s the kind of noise we have to be prepared to make until the EPA’s final biofuel targets for 2018 deliver on the president’s goals for measurable growth.

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