Durbin: Right now E15 remains an empty promise

Source: By U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Journal Star • Posted: Monday, July 29, 2019

Last month, I applauded President Trump’s approval of E15, a 15% blend of ethanol in gasoline, for year-round sales. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement E15 as soon as possible.

For Illinois, approval of E15 could boost 14 ethanol facilities and 20,000 downstate jobs. For motorists, E15 could save up to 10 cents per gallon. And for farmers, E15 could help financially when our third largest ethanol customer, China, has stopped buying our soybeans and pork in response to the President’s trade strategy.

And while President Trump has claimed that he “fought very hard for ethanol,” when you pull back the curtain, what you uncover is that the President’s EPA has issued a whopping 54 secret waivers that allow oil refineries to stop blending biofuels into gasoline. This decreases demand for E15, all to help out the big oil industry that has fought against renewable fuels.

Fourteen years ago, I helped enact the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The law has been a tremendous success, helping the U.S. to build independence from Middle East oil, creating new markets for Illinois farmers, and helping motorists with lower fuel prices. While the law allows waivers for small oil refineries during brief economic hardship, the most issued in any year has been eight — until President Trump.

These small refinery waivers that President Trump is issuing aren’t because of “brief economic hardship.” Big oil is doing just fine. In May, the Department of Energy reported net income for top U.S. oil companies like Exxon and Chevron has totaled $28 billion, the most profitable in five years. For corn growers, however, these waivers mean 636 million fewer bushels used for ethanol. For soybean growers, economists say the Trump waivers have dropped biodiesel demand by 2.5 billion gallons and could cost $7.7 billion by next year.

Congressional frustration on this topic is bipartisan and growing. EPA argues the waivers are required by the courts, but new evidence proves otherwise. That led to my colleague, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa and a longtime biofuels champion, to declare these EPA claims “a lie.”

Ethanol margins are at the lowest in history, forcing plants to idle or close, with 600 million gallons of production taken offline. In April, Marquis Ethanol canceled construction of a new $500 million facility in Scott County. And in June, Center Ethanol shut down its plant in Sauget, Illinois.

Yet EPA still has nearly 40 more waivers pending. I recently joined 10 bipartisan Senators demanding EPA stop these waivers, and introduced a bill with fellow Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth to force EPA to disclose who gets these waivers and why.

Until EPA stops handing out waivers to well-connected oil refineries, E15 remains nothing but an empty promise. Farmers will be stuck in the middle as the President’s trade policies and “small refinery” waivers make the economics of Illinois’ farming even more challenging.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)

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