Big turnout is expected Today in Kansas City, Kan., for EPA hearing on ethanol

Source: BY GREG HACK, Kansas City Star • Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hundreds of people with a stake in the ethanol industry — from producers and users to corn farmers, rival oil company executives, elected officials, environmentalists and consumers — are coming to Kansas City, Kan., on Thursday to give their thoughts on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce the country’s ethanol mandate.

The EPA estimates that the hearing, starting at 9 a.m. and running for several hours in two rooms at the Jack Reardon Convention Center, will draw 240 speakers and at least 400 people total. It’s the only public comment hearing in the country on the changes the EPA proposed last month.

The agency will weigh the comments and then issue its final rules in November.

The changes the EPA proposes would reduce the amounts of ethanol to be used this year and next from what Congress originally mandated in a 2007 renewable fuel law. The EPA also retroactively set the mandate for 2014 to 15.9 billion gallons, about the amount actually used last year.

The amounts the EPA now calls for using — 16.3 billion gallons this year and 17.4 billion in 2016 — would still be increases from the past, but also 4 billion gallons less this year than Congress legislated and nearly 5 billion less next year.

The law provides for the EPA to revise the amounts, which the agency says can’t realistically be met. Next-generation biofuels, made from agricultural waste such as wood chips and corncobs, have not taken off as quickly as Congress required and the administration expected. There has also been less gasoline use than predicted, the EPA said.

Most ethanol is used by blending it into motor fuels, usually 10 percent ethanol to 90 percent gasoline.

The reduced mandate is opposed by organizations such as the National Corn Growers Association, which has 43,000 members, and the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers in several Midwest states.

In recent years, one-third of U.S. corn has gone toward ethanol production. And the Renewable Fuels Association estimates that the ethanol industry added $53 billion to the gross domestic product, including $600 million for construction of new plants and $1.8 billion in research and development.

Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, the top corn- and ethanol-producing state, and Jay Nixon of Missouri are expected to testify, along with others emphasizing their states’ and towns’ economic benefits from ethanol.

On the other side, the oil industry was generally pleased with the reduced mandate, arguing that the market should dictate energy use, rather than a federal mandate. And some environmental groups, including the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, are expected to present evidence that ethanol, on balance, is bad for the environment.

The 2007 renewable fuel law tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster the rural economy. The EPA says its revised mandate would still drive ethanol growth at an “ambitious but responsible” rate, but more in line with current gasoline use.

The EPA also has noted that its revised standards promote the development of more advanced forms of ethanol that don’t rely on corn and can burn more cleanly but also recognize that development has lagged Congress’ hopes.

The National Corn Growers Association is sponsoring a rally at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Huron Park, Sixth and Ann streets, a block southwest of the Reardon Civic Center. The association says it has buses coming in from more than a dozen pickup points in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.