Iowa officials disappointed by EPA's final Renewable Fuel Standard

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Iowa politicians from both parties may disagree on hundreds of policy issues, but they have long been united in supporting the biofuels industry. Iowa’s elected officials expressed outrage in late 2013, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard, a “federal program that requires transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels.” Governor Terry Branstad and then-Representative Bruce Braley were among those who urged the EPA not to reduce the amount of ethanol required. Political pressure eventually delayed the EPA’s action on adjusting the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Yesterday the EPA released the final version of the RFS. More details, background and supporting documents on the rule are available here. The final standards for 2014 and 2015 “reflect the actual amount of domestic biofuel used in those years, and standards for 2016 (and 2017 for biodiesel) […] represent significant growth over historical levels.” They rule also sets higher goals than those the EPA proposed earlier this year. Christopher Doering reported for the Des Moines Register,

Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in an interview the ethanol quotas follow Congress’ intent to promote the increased use of renewable fuels. She said slower-than-expected growth in the nascent cellulosic ethanol industry and lower gasoline demand made the 2007 figures from Congress no longer achievable.

These numbers will “really drive the volumes significantly beyond where they have been in the last couple of years, which is what Congress intended, and that’s substantial growth, achievable growth,” McCabe said. “The industry is going to really have to push to achieve these, but it provides the signal they’ve been asking for. I think when people look at the numbers they will see that this really is very good for the industry.”

Nevertheless, Iowa politicians expressed strong disapproval yesterday of the EPA’s final rule. I’ve enclosed below statements from the governor’s office and several members of Congress and will update this post as needed.

Once you venture outside political circles, you can find Iowa voices questioning the consensus about federal policy on biofuels. At a January 2014 hearing organized by Branstad, Francis Thicke was the only speaker “to talk about the ‘other side’ of ethanol,” arguing that it is “disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil.” Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad also defended the EPA’s planned update to the RFS. Whereas elected officials tend to cite Renewable Fuels Association statistics as gospel, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has questioned industry claims regarding biofuels production and job creation.

Statement released by Senator Chuck Grassley:

Grassley Disappointed in Renewable Fuel Volumes; EPA Missed the Mark

Nov 30, 2015
For months, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise and increase its proposed volume obligations for renewable biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014, 2015 and 2016. After hearing from Grassley and other senators, the EPA released a final rule today that improves the volume requirements over its last proposal but still underestimates the capacity for farmers and ethanol and biodiesel producers to generate enough renewable fuel to meet higher goals. Grassley made the following comment on the final rule.

“This rule is a slight improvement but it still sells biofuels short. The EPA just doesn’t appreciate that farmers and biofuels producers can generate enough renewable fuels to meet the goals set by Congress. The EPA doesn’t seem to appreciate that the law on the books requires strong biofuels targets and that consumers like the chance to use alternate fuels. Instead, the EPA took a flawed approach that seems to buy into Big Oil’s rhetoric. The new rule is not only more than two years late, but it also sets back the development of next generation biofuels. This rule undermines the efforts to commercialize the next generation of biofuels. It’s unfortunate that this Administration, which claims to be for renewable and clean energy, would stand in the way of the production and use of more renewable fuels.”

Statement released by Senator Joni Ernst (italics in original):

Monday, November 30, 2015
“The Obama Administration is once again using the EPA to impose their agenda on hardworking Iowans by instituting biofuel volume requirements that are lower than originally mandated and in direct contradiction of the law.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014 through 2016:

“I am extremely disappointed by the EPA’s choice to reduce volume requirements for corn ethanol which flies in the face of original congressional intent, and fails to provide any incentives for expanding alternative fuel availability for consumers. The Obama Administration is once again using the EPA to impose their agenda on hardworking Iowans by instituting biofuel volume requirements that are lower than originally mandated and in direct contradiction of the law.

“The RFS creates consumer choice for clean fuel, spurs investment in research, production and infrastructure. Furthermore, it is critical to growing our green energy sector, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and supporting the rural economy in Iowa and across the Midwest.

“Iowa is a national leader and is home to retailers across the state who offer affordable ethanol and biodiesel blends to consumers which is in direct alignment with the original intent of RFS when Congress passed it.

“Having a strong and long-term RFS is of critical importance to Iowa, as well as our nation. I remain committed to protecting our domestic energy security and promoting innovation in the next generation of biofuels which are paramount to the health and vitality of our state as we chart a path forward.”

Statements released by Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds:

Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds today released statements upon learning of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume obligation levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

“I am extremely disappointed that the EPA’s final decision failed to follow the renewable volume levels set by Congress,” said Branstad. “Unfortunately, today’s decision shows the lack of interest in providing consumers choice at the pump, creating jobs and increasing incomes in Rural America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. This rule falls far too short of a robust RFS and short of the standards set by Congress.”

“This entire process has negatively impacted Iowa families through reduced commodity prices, farm incomes, and farmland values,” said Reynolds. “We were hopeful that the EPA would fully recognize the importance of renewable fuels after years of regulatory uncertainty. However, the EPA’s decision only marginally improves volume levels in a step that will hurt Iowa families, businesses, and farmers.”

The State of Iowa has supported both the production and use of biofuels, including renewable fuel infrastructure development through the Fueling Our Future Program and the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program, to ensure that consumers have true choices at the pump.

Branstad and Reynolds have been engaged in calling for a strong and robust Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over the past two years.

Highlights of Iowa leaders’ engagement on the RFS include:

State and Federal elected officials, including Gov. Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds, participated in a “Defend the RFS” event.
Gov. Branstad traveled to Washington, DC, joining a group of Iowa farmers and biofuels producers, to testify at the Federal government’s only public hearing and met with EPA Administrator McCarthy.
Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Secretary Bill Northey and the entire Iowa congressional delegation sent a joint letter to Federal leaders advocating for the many benefits that flow from the RFS.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN) penned an op-ed in support of a strong Renewable Fuel Standard.
Gov. Terry Branstad brought together a bipartisan group of six governors to sign on to a letter to President Barack Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing their support for a strong RFS.
Leaders from across the Midwest joined Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds for their “Hearing in Heartland,” which was open to all interested citizens; 83 panelists from across the Midwest Region spoke from the heart about the importance of the RFS to their livelihoods and a healthy rural economy while only two individuals expressed opposition to a robust RFS.
Gov. Branstad, in his Condition of the State address, called on the Iowa Legislature to pass a resolution in support of a robust RFS. The Legislature unanimously passed bicameral, bipartisan resolutions calling for the EPA to reverse course and support a strong RFS. View the resolutions: House Resolution 101 | Senate Resolution 101
State of Iowa leaders submitted formal comments to the EPA with current data and analysis that provides Federal leaders the opportunity and obligation to revise their initial volume obligations upward.
Gov. Branstad joined Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO), in testifying at the EPA RFS hearing in Kansas City, Kansas
Lt. Gov. Reynolds participated in RFS event with Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE)
State of Iowa leaders again submitted formal comments in 2015 on the EPA’s revised RFS proposed rule
Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds underscored the importance of the RFS at the grand opening of Dupont’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa in October.

Statement released by Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02):

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final rule for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) obligations. Loebsack, a co-chair of the Biofuels Caucus, has led the fight for a strong RFS and highlighted its importance to Iowa.

“The RFS has proven it works. It creates jobs, supports our agricultural communities and lessens our dependence on foreign oil. I have been leading the bipartisan fight in Congress for a strong RFS, and while the numbers are greater than the original proposal, they do not go far enough. I will continue to work with the EPA to ensure the RFS remains good for Iowa.”

Representative Steve King (R, IA-04) released this video statement:

UPDATE: Representative David Young’s office released these comments, which Young made in an interview with KMA News on December 2:

“I wish they had followed the law set in 2007 with those levels. The numbers are a little better than they were proposed earlier this year, but I wish the EPA’s commitment was stronger. That commitment is important to our economy, energy policy and national security in the end. I am disappointed they didn’t follow the law from 2007 that set levels higher, but I am hopeful that we can continue to educate the EPA and increase the levels down the road.”

Photo credit: Greg Hauenstein

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