Ethanol backers swarm EPA in K.C.

Source: BY STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Friday, June 26, 2015

Nebraskans who don’t agree on much otherwise were among the vanguard of ethanol advocates telling the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday not to slash billions of gallons of ethanol from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The EPA proposes to reduce the standard passed by Congress setting a minimum amount of ethanol that must be used in motor fuel in coming years to accommodate what’s called the “blend wall,” a theoretical volume that may not easily be overcome because of better mileage performance in motor vehicles and the limited use of fuels containing more than 10 percent ethanol.

Ethanol advocates believe the government is caving in to an oil industry tactic to limit the use of the biofuel made primarily from corn. The oil industry prefers no minimum standard and has opposed the ethanol industry for as long as it has been in existence.

The EPA conducted a hearing on the proposed standard Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas. It is the only public comment hearing in the country before the EPA issues its final rules by late November.

Hundreds of people took turns reading prepared three-minute statements on the EPA proposal to lower biofuel requirements set by Congress by 4 billion gallons this year and 5 billion gallons next year.

Among those who want no reduction in the RFS were Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and, on the other side of most political fences, Jane Kleeb, leader of the Bold Nebraska populist advocacy organization.

Nebraska is second in ethanol production behind Iowa. A number of farmers and other Nebraska advocates for renewable energy were among hundreds demonstrating or testifying in Kansas City.

Among them was Art Tanderup a farmer from Neligh, who raises corn, soybeans and rye.

He told the hearing he uses no-till farming methods to capture carbon and build soil health, soil sensors to preserve water and solar panels provide most of the farm’s electrical energy. He said he has an electric hybrid car, uses ethanol in his and biodiesel when we can get it.

“Times have changed,” Tanderup said in a statement. “This country can no longer be fossil fuel-dependent. Renewable fuels are part of the answer.”

Nebraska Energy Office Director David Bracht testified on behalf of the state.

Ricketts added a statement: “The EPA’s lack of commitment to the RFS is already driving potential investment away from our state. On a trade mission earlier this month, the CEO of a major biofuels company told me that his business previously had interest in expanding in the United States, but that the EPA’s recent proposal to reduce the RFS is a hurdle to future expansion plans.”

Ricketts didn’t identify the company.

Bracht said Nebraska’s corn and biofuels sectors set a course of action in 2005, when the RFS was established.

“They recognized the value this policy had in diversification of the U.S. domestic fuel supply, while providing economic benefits for healthy, sustainable rural communities,” Bracht said. “Our state has joined others in the Midwest and proved our ability to create a supply chain that has, and can, fulfill a consistently growing demand for ethanol. We’ve done it, and we can continue to do it, if given the chance.”

Among others adding support were Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, and Paul Kenney, chair of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

“The EPA’s proposal to dramatically reduce the amount of corn ethanol in the RFS would not only harm Nebraska’s 24 ethanol plants, but it would also be devastating to our state’s farmers who produce the feedstock for the plants and the cattle feeders who rely on the high-quality feed ethanol plants to provide for their cattle,” Kenney said in a statement.  A byproduct of ethanol production is distiller’s grain, used to feed cattle in Nebraska feedlots.

“All the work and investment that Nebraska corn and livestock farmers have put into building the ethanol industry is at risk,” said Tim Scheer, a farmer from St. Paul and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board.  “We’ve already seen corn prices drift at or below the cost of production and cutting the use of corn for ethanol could drive prices even lower.”

Todd Becker, CEO of Green Plains, the largest ethanol producer in Nebraska and the fourth largest producer in the country, said ethanol companies have more than $5 billion in capital invested in Nebraska alone, and these investments have helped to create more than 3,000 jobs in the state.

By adhering to the Renewable Volume Obligations established by Congress, the policy can continue to drive investment in the private sector as it was intended, Becker said.

Oil industry groups also attended, and they are happy the EPA proposed scaling back the mandate. They generally favor letting market forces dictate energy use.

“Most cars can only operate on a 10 percent ethanol blend,” said Bob Greco, a director at the American Petroleum Institute.  “As long as the EPA mandates stay below 10 percent, then that’s an acceptable level.”

Kleeb countered: “Big Oil is anti-farmer.”

“Always has been. Always will be,” she said in a statement.

The EPA and Department of Energy science shows that ethanol and other biofuels represent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 34 percent for corn ethanol to over 100 percent for advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol that are entering commercial scale production.

“And the last time I looked,” Kleeb said, “a farmer who grows ethanol has not soaked dolphins in oil, nor have they destroyed farmland with oil pipelines bursting.”