Ethanol supports tell Congress to keep hands off RFS

Source: By NICHOLAS BERGIN | LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR • Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2015

The fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the use of biofuels like ethanol, has shifted to the halls of Congress, with farm and ethanol groups warning lawmakers that changing the mandate could impede investment in biofuels and hurt the rural economy.

Opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard, led by the American Petroleum Institute, have called for Congress to repeal or drastically reform the measure. They say the biofuels targets are unattainable because Americans have not shown an interest in gas with higher blends of ethanol, motorists are driving less, and cars have become more efficient since the standards were set in 2007.

Farm and renewable fuel industry groups are rallying to defend the renewable fuel mandate, which is the foundation of Nebraska’s ethanol industry.

Earlier this month, dozens of biofuel and agriculture groups sent a letter to Congress urging members of the House to reject efforts to amend, repeal, defund or interfere with the Renewable Fuel Standard. The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a similar letter.

“Ethanol is extremely important to the state of Nebraska,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation. “It generates about $5 billion a year for the Nebraska economy, and there are about 3,000 jobs that are connected with ethanol.”

Nebraska is the second largest ethanol producing state behind Iowa, and distillers grain — a byproduct of making the fuel additive — is a premium feed for livestock. That’s part of the reason Nebraska has become the leading state for cattle on feed.

The letters to Congress specifically mentioned comments made by Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, who has said he plans to offer an amendment to the 2016 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2822) that would defund implementation of the measure by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month, the EPA released a Renewable Fuel Standard proposal through 2016, plus requirements for biodiesel in 2017. The standard sets how much biofuel has to be used in the U.S., and corn-based ethanol is one of the most popular fuels for meeting those benchmarks. The EPA plans to finalize the proposals by November.

The proposals would reduce targets set by Congress, which EPA officials have said are unrealistic.

Ethanol supporters have criticized the EPA, saying it revised the standards too low, and higher targets can be met by promoting fuel with higher ethanol blends.

Nebraska ethanol supporters are working to prove the point. A state collaboration led by the Nebraska Ethanol Board and Nebraska Energy Office, is pursing a $6 million matching grant from the USDA for installation of new fuel pumps capable of dispensing high ethanol blends from E15 to E85.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month his agency would offer up $100 million to encourage installation of gas station pumps to create a broader network for biofuel distribution and make it easier for consumers to access.

Pumps installed with the grant dollars will be put in high-volume locations focusing on the Interstate 80 corridor and the Lincoln and Omaha metro areas, which have the greatest potential for increasing sales.

Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, said the goal is to show the EPA that infrastructure development and marketing can lead to more demand for biofuels, and there is no reason to throttle back renewable fuel standards.

The state match will be made with a combination of cash and in-kind dollars.