Biofuels producers say Trump could do more to help

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2020

Ethanol producers are airing a number of grievances with the Trump administration for not using the regulatory tools at its disposal to help the biofuels industry.

They’re also slamming oil refiners and oil-state politicians for taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to seek to weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard. The biofuels industry sees that policy as even more critical during the virus outbreak, as it “keeps a demand floor” under producers and “provides some certainty in a very uncertain time,” said Geoff Cooper, head of the Renewable Fuels Association.

The oil industry “never let a good crisis go to waste,” Cooper told reporters Friday, citing efforts by six governors to win exemptions from the biofuels blending requirements amid the pandemic. “What they’re doing is shameful really.”

Cooper and others in the ethanol industry say there’s no basis for the EPA to waive the RFS requirements. The biofuels regulations already account for any decreases in total gasoline consumption, as the EPA translates the volumes into percentages that adjust with demand, producers told reporters.

“The law is crystal-clear that governors must show the RFS itself is somehow causing severe economic harm to their state,” Cooper said. “We just think that would be impossible to show currently.”

The ethanol industry’s concerns come as it finally could see some relief: House Democrats included direct assistance to biofuels producers in their latest virus relief package. (See more on the broader bill, which the House is voting on today, below.)

Biofuels producers say they expect a bipartisan push in the Senate to provide similar relief in whatever legislation senators draw up. That’s despite Senate Republicans largely dismissing House Democrats’ bill as a “liberal wish list” and dead on arrival.

Even the relief offered in House Democrats’ bill isn’t enough to bring ethanol production roaring back, though, the industry says.

Neil Koehler, CEO of Pacific Ethanol and chair of the fuels group, told reporters he’s “encouraged by the developments, but we’re far from out of the woods.” More than 50 ethanol plants remain completely idled and around 75 are operating at greatly reduced output rates, according to Cooper.

The Agriculture Department and other Trump agencies still have existing authorities they could use to help the biofuels industry, Cooper said, adding producers are in talks with administration officials to urge them to use those tools.

“It would be nice not to need to wait for legislation,” he said.

The Trump administration is also complicating the hand sanitizer market: Many ethanol producers have ramped up alcohol production to provide for hand sanitizers, which they say has offered a sliver of economic opportunity to help keep plants operating. But they’re running into roadblocks at the Food and Drug Administration, which producers say keeps moving the goalposts.

“It’s sort of like driving down a road with no speed limit signs,” Cooper said. “You’re just guessing, and the police are the only ones who know what the speed limits are.”

Cooper added the industry has appealed directly to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn for clarity.