Editorial: Biofuel use expansion crucial to Nebraska

Source: By Editorial Board, Grand Island Independent • Posted: Monday, September 5, 2016

Nine years ago, Congress created the renewable fuel standard (RFS) with the intention of ensuring a progressively expanding schedule for the production and marketing of renewable energy sources. The program requires oil companies to blend increasing volumes of renewable fuels with gasoline and diesel, culminating with a requirement of 36 billion gallons in 2022.

But when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposal in May to cut the RFS for 2017 from 24 billion gallons of biofuels in the nation’s fuel supply to 18.8 billion gallons, it posed an unnecessary threat to our country’s agricultural producers and the environment that it is supposed to be protecting.

The levels legislated by Congress are needed to continue to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as save motorists money at the gas pump.

Part of the law passed by Congress was a requirement that the EPA conduct regular studies to determine whether air and water quality are benefitting from adding ethanol to gasoline. Recently, following an inspector general finding that the EPA hadn’t conducted these studies, the agency said it will, but the first results won’t be available for more than a year.

The fact that these studies haven’t been carried out doesn’t mean there are credible concerns that biofuels are harming the environment. So, in the meantime, the government should continue to follow the law as passed by Congress.

This is especially important for Nebraska, with a forecast of a record-high 1.76-billion-bushel corn harvest in the state this year.

At country elevators throughout our area, the corn price has dropped below $3 per bushel. Farm income is lower than last year and bankers surveyed recently expect farm income to remain weak in the third quarter because of low commodity prices.

It’s expected that producers will be storing a lot of grain from this year’s harvest, waiting for better prices.

But Nebraska has 25 ethanol plants that have a capacity of producing 2 billion gallons a year. They use more than 600 million bushels of corn annually. With producers about to reap a huge harvest of corn, this isn’t the time for the government to go back on its promise to them that there would be a market for their corn in the biofuel industry.

The RFS was created both to help farmers and because of the belief that reducing the use of oil and increasing the use of biofuels would protect the environment.

At a hearing in Kansas City, Mo., on its proposal, the EPA heard from political leaders, ethanol industry leaders and farmers about the detrimental effects of reducing the RFS.

It must listen to the farmers who have supported its efforts to protect the environment by getting involved in the biofuel industry and stick with the 24-billion-gallon level mandated in the 2007 law.