Industry blasts lawmakers’ bid to bar funds for infrastructure, exports 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015

Five ethanol and farm organizations pushed back yesterday against an effort by 18 House lawmakers to prohibit the Agriculture Department from funding ethanol infrastructure and exports.

In a letter to House agriculture appropriators, the groups blasted the “blatant effort to shelter the oil and gas industry from any further competition from ethanol.” They urged the appropriators to “vehemently oppose and reject” the language offered by the coalition of House members.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) led the group of lawmakers who asked agriculture appropriators Monday to bar the use of fiscal 2016 funds for ethanol blender pumps and promoting U.S. ethanol overseas (E&E Daily, March 25).

“While the Goodlatte letter claims that corn-based ethanol is negatively impacting American consumers, food and livestock producers, and food availability, there is ample data which shows that that is simply not the case,” the five groups wrote.

The Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Farmers Union, the National Corn Growers Association and Growth Energy all signed the letter. It was addressed to Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Blender pumps are service station pumps that can handle mixes of up to 75 percent ethanol. Ethanol supporters view them as key to getting more renewable fuels in the market.

USDA in 2011 announced a goal to install 10,000 blender pumps across the country using the farm bill’s rural energy title. But in the farm bill last year, Congress passed a prohibition on USDA Rural Energy for America Program funding for their installation at gas stations.

The lawmakers’ letter Monday asked that agriculture appropriators go a step further and ban USDA from using any funding toward blender pump installation.

They also targeted USDA’s efforts to sell ethanol overseas. Exports have become more important to the U.S. industry in recent years, and USDA has taken part in several efforts to open up new markets.

“We are writing to respectfully request the inclusion of language to limit continued government support for corn ethanol,” the lawmakers wrote. “The federal government’s creation of an artificial market for the ethanol industry is negatively impacting American consumers, livestock farmers, food producers, retailers, air and water quality, and the ability to feed our nation’s hungry.”

In their rebuttal, the five ethanol and farm groups said USDA’s past assistance on blender pumps has helped provide consumers with “greater access to low cost biofuels.”

They said, however, that the transition to higher blends of ethanol has been “slow and difficult” because of the retail gasoline market and the oil industry’s opposition to ethanol.

Exports are needed to overcome the “artificially constrained” market at home, they argued.

“To deny the U.S ethanol industry access to these important trade promotion resources — which remain available to hundreds of other U.S. agricultural products,” they wrote, “is simply a biased and one-sided approach that is more concerned with constraining the U.S. ethanol industry than it is with mitigating the supposed impacts of ethanol on food and livestock pricing and availability.”