Govs. Ricketts, Reynolds testify at EPA hearing, urge greater federal support for advanced biofuels

Source: By Joseph Morton, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration got an earful Tuesday from critics and supporters of federal rules that mandate the use of ethanol and other fuels in the nation’s gasoline supply.

On one side of the long-running argument are conservative groups, along with the oil and gas industry, pushing for the Renewable Fuel Standard to be significantly dialed back or even eliminated.

Those in the biofuels industry and Midwestern agricultural interests, meanwhile, insist that the standards must be preserved and even ratcheted up in the name of consumer freedom, energy independence and job creation.

“The RFS is critical to supporting our agricultural economy while also reducing our dependence on foreign oil and providing consumers with choices at the pump,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, testified.

The Environmental Protection Agency held Tuesday’s hearing to gather public input on its proposed RFS targets — the minimum level of renewables to be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply — set to be finalized later this year.

Its proposed 15 billion gallon requirement for conventional, typically corn-based ethanol generally satisfied ethanol proponents, but requirements for biodiesel and advanced cellulosic ethanol have been met with dismay in some quarters.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, representing the nation’s top two ethanol-producing states, joined Ernst in testifying about the benefits of a robust Renewable Fuel Standard.

In particular, they said concerns that biodiesel capacity can’t keep up with higher requirements are unfounded.

“The biofuels industry has proven that when you set the bar high, the industry can make the jump,” Ricketts said.

Opponents testified Tuesday that the renewable fuels being promoted actually harm the environment, are often inefficient and divert agricultural resources away from feeding people and into filling gas tanks.

Ricketts and Reynolds both pushed back on the criticisms.

“Our farmers have demonstrated that you can in fact feed and fuel the world,” Reynolds said.

President Donald Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA had sparked concern in the Midwest given the Oklahoman’s oil and gas background.

But speaking to reporters after they testified, both governors praised administration officials for making timely decisions and being accessible. Both were included in an energy roundtable at the White House, for example.

Still, they said they will keep up the fight in support of renewable fuels.

“You have to always be out there advocating for it,” Ricketts said. “You can never take it for granted.”

Beyond the RFS, Ernst praised the work of Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in pushing legislation that would allow higher ethanol blends such as E15 to be sold year-round. But Ernst acknowledged that the proposal has stalled in committee for the time being.

“We are in a holding pattern right now,” Ernst said. “We are trying to push friends and allies to join us in this effort.”

Ernst said she hopes the administration takes to heart supporters’ statements at Tuesday’s hearing, and she recalled Trump’s backing of ethanol on the campaign trail.

“He stated quite clearly all throughout the campaign that he was supportive of these types of energy sources,” Ernst said. “He made that commitment to Iowa. We need to see him double down on that with the EPA as well.”