Corn growers rally ahead of RFS lobbying push

Source: Dylan Brown, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015

The National Corn Growers Association gave its members a straightforward message to take into meetings on Capitol Hill today about the federal renewable fuel standard and American ethanol production: “Don’t mess with the RFS.”

The association and mascot Captain Cornelius — a giant ear of corn — staged a Rally for Rural America as the corn industry battles U.S. EPA’s proposed federal biofuel requirements.

“I can’t imagine how we can lift rural incomes without boosting the renewable fuel standard,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said at the event.

With a Nov. 30 deadline, EPA has proposed to increase targets for ethanol and advanced biofuels through 2016, but not to the levels Congress outlined when the renewable fuel standard was passed in 2007.

Association President Chip Bowling thanked the more than 150 corn growers and lobbyists gathered near the U.S. Capitol in support of the ethanol industry, with signs reading “American bushels, not foreign barrels” above their heads to keep off a drizzling rain.

“There are two threats that farmers face: weather,” the Maryland farmer said, gesturing to the darkening sky, “and bureaucrats.”

He said growers simply can’t tolerate EPA cutting demand for corn, especially with prices already near the cost of production.

While Maryland is not an ethanol state, Bowling said the impact the RFS has had in supporting the agricultural community has been apparent, a point reinforced by fellow Maryland farmer Linda Burrier.

“It wasn’t all that long ago that many farmers were telling their kids, ‘Don’t come back to the farm, you can’t make a living,'” Burrier said. “The RFS has changed that.”

Annette Sweeney, an Iowa farmer and co-chairwoman of political action group America’s Renewable Future, said the ethanol industry supports about 425,000 jobs across the country.

“The RFS is a true American success story, and we’ve got to ensure that this accomplishment is not halted and we do not allow our budding industry to be cut off at its roots,” she said.

Sweeney, whose Iowa-based coalition is dedicated to making the RFS a factor in the Iowa presidential primary next year, told the crowd to demand that lawmakers “level the playing field for renewable.”

She said the common refrain that Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be in the business of “picking winners and losers” rings hollow after 100 years of subsidies for oil companies, major opponents of the renewable fuel standard.

“We’ve gotta fight,” she said. “And it’s against the monolithic and powerful outside influences who will pour millions upon millions of dollars to defeat the RFS, and to smear this successful policy with their lies.”

Sweeney said corn growers are not asking for the return of their own tax credits again, just a choice at the pump. She also took the opportunity to counter recent concerns that ethanol-infused gasoline is hard on car engines, citing NASCAR’s use of what she called a “higher-quality” fuel.

“The RFS is the only major U.S. policy that is reducing harmful greenhouse emissions, and it has already displaced millions of barrels of imported oil,” she said.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), whose district in the Chicago suburbs borders prime corn country, emphasized the latter point — that ethanol is more than an economic policy.

“Ethanol is important for this nation, not just for the clean air, not just for the environment, but for the safety and security of our nation,” the Iraq War veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee said.

She said 50 percent of all combat causalities in Iraq came during convoy operations, 80 percent of which were for carrying oil.

“I want to stop sending troops to serve overseas for foreign oil,” she said. “I want to stop creating oil jobs in the Middle East, I want to stop propping up Middle Eastern monarchies that are not always supportive of America’s agenda.”

Duckworth said with ethanol promising potential for permanent domestic jobs, she was disappointed in EPA’s proposal and urged the audience to press for the standards Congress set out in 2007.

“Remember what you are pushing for is not just about economic livelihoods for your friends and your families and your community,” she said. “You’re talking about the safety and security of our nation.”