EPA would pull rug from under ethanol

Source: By Pete Ricketts, Kearney Hub • Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Agriculture is Nebraska’s No. 1 industry, and that is why growing agriculture is so critical to growing our state. Ethanol is one of the key growth industries in Nebraska agriculture that has added billions in revenue and thousands of jobs to our economy over the past decade. Thanks to the Renewable Fuels Standard the Congress passed in 2005, Nebraska’s ethanol production has tripled from 566 million gallons to about 2 billion gallons in just 10 years.

Before the advent of the RFS, ethanol slowly took root in Nebraska in spite of critics who made their case against it. In 1985, Chief Ethanol Fuels built Nebraska’s first ethanol plant in Hastings. Over the next 20 years, 10 more plants were built.

In our state, ethanol has become one side of what some call the “Golden Triangle” along with corn and cattle. Nebraska earned its reputation as “the Beef State” in part because of our abundant corn supply, which serves as the primary feed for cattle and results in high-quality beef. As more ethanol plants were built, cattle feeders began to use distillers grain, a high-quality feed that is a co-product of the ethanol production process. Distillers grain has become the preferred feedstock of many cattle feeders because of its feed value and performance advantages, helping put Nebraska at the top of all cattle feeding states in 2013 and 2014.

Since the passage of the RFS, Nebraska has built over a dozen additional ethanol plants and expanded production at several others. Today, Nebraska’s 24 ethanol plants add jobs, property tax base, and economic growth to communities from Bridgeport to Blair. The Nebraska ethanol industry has invested over $5 billion in capital investments in our state and supports 4,400 jobs including 1,300 direct jobs. All this has added up to Nebraska ranking as the second-largest ethanol producer nationally.

Early critics of ethanol warned that producing fuel from corn or similar feedstocks would compete with putting food on the table — a belief that has been proven untrue. While this criticism and others have been discredited as the ethanol industry has grown and consumers have become familiar with the fuel, the ethanol industry is under a new assault by President Obama’s EPA.

The EPA has a proposal on the table that would slash billions of gallons from the RFS, effectively reducing demand for corn ethanol. This proposal represents a step away from policies previously set at the federal level to utilize cleaner-burning fuels and diversify our country’s energy portfolio as our nation seeks new and innovative ways to achieve energy independence.

The proposal also effectively pulls the rug from underneath ethanol producers and the industry who rely on the RFS. On my administration’s recent trade mission to Europe, an ethanol company based in Denmark with a major presence in Nebraska indicated to me that the EPA’s proposal to reduce the RFS was a barrier to expanding in the United States.

My administration has taken action. On June 25, the EPA held a hearing on the proposed reductions to the RFS in Kansas City, Kan. Nebraska Energy Office Director David Bracht testified at the hearing about the value of ethanol to Nebraska and the negative impact that the EPA’s proposal would have on our state. Nebraskans who care about the future of agriculture and ethanol in our state are welcome to submit their own comments to the EPA. More information on how you can submit a comment of your own can be found by visiting www.tinyurl.com/epaethanol.

The proposed changes to the RFS are just another example of baseless policies issued by the EPA and Washington bureaucrats that will hurt our state. As governor, I will continue to push back on Washington and fight for Nebraska.

Pete Ricketts is governor of Nebraska.