Iowa farm groups bemoan lawmakers’ failure to boost renewable fuels

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2021

Iowa lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session without passing a bill that would have required fuel sold in Iowa to contain higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel, products that are made using the state’s two largest crops.

“We’re disappointed an opportunity was forfeited this session to further support Iowa farmers, consumers, the environment and long-term ag economy,” Jeff Jorgenson, a Sidney farmer who is president of the Iowa Soybean Association board, said in a statement.

Iowa leads the nation in ethanol and biodiesel production and is a leader in growing corn and soybeans, the raw materials needed to make the biofuels. Roughly half the state’s corn crop goes to making ethanol.

Even though the bill setting a biofuels standard is dead this year, it remains viable for consideration next year. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who proposed the standard, said last month she planned to convene a meeting before next year’s General Assembly to iron out differences over the legislation.

The proposal pitted farm groups against a coalition of fuel retailers and transportation groups. At an April legislative subcommittee meeting, they disagreed sharply about bill’s effects on consumers, the costs of compliance and whether the proposal would drive more renewable fuel use.

For subscribers:How did Gov. Kim Reynolds’ legislative agenda fare this year? On 10 key issues, she scored more wins than losses.

A heavily retooled House bill that had the most likely chance for advancing would have required Iowa retailers to offer gasoline with 15% ethanol by 2026 and diesel with at least 11% biodiesel by 2022. The proposal called for providing retailers with tax incentives for offering blends above the minimums required by the state.

On Thursday, the Iowa Biodiesel Board blamed the bill’s failure on misinformation from the fuel and transportation coalition.

“Some opponents grossly exaggerated fuel price impacts and infrastructure costs associated with this reasonable fuel supply shift, even as some of those same companies pocketed millions of dollars in infrastructure grants as well as federal and state tax credits to support their transition to biofuels,” said Grant Kimberley, Iowa Biodiesel Board executive director, in a statement..

Ronald Langston, a member of the Fuel Choice Coalition, said the group wants to reach a solution “that supports our fuel infrastructure, the businesses that sell these fuels, and the consumers who depend on them every day.”

“Fuel retailers have never wavered in supporting the growth of renewable fuels,” said Langston, CEO of FUELIowa, a fuel industry advocacy group.

Reynolds and Republican legislative leaders acknowledged last month the proposal likely would not pass.

Kimberley said fuel and transportation companies should band with farmers and renewable fuel producers to support the requirement, given the national push toward electric vehicles.

“As automakers announce plans to go all-electric and other states actively work to push out fossil fuels altogether in favor of a low-carbon future, not embracing renewable fuels puts the future of all liquid fuels at risk, along with their convenience store profit centers,” he said.

Iowa convenience store chains Casey’s General Stores and Kum & Go were among the fuel retailers expressing concern about the proposal’s costs — not only for their businesses but potentially for consumers.

Iowa farm and renewable fuels groups countered the mandate would lower costs because it would make gasoline with 15% ethanol — or E15 — more widely available across the state. The groups said the higher blend is typically 5 cents cheaper per gallon than a 10% ethanol — or E10 — blend, and up to 40 cents cheaper than gasoline with no ethanol.

The Iowa Soybean Association and other farm groups applauded several legislative actions, including providing $5 million to install pumps and other infrastructure to dispense higher renewable fuel blends.

But, Jorgenson said, the “investment and momentum to build out Iowa’s fueling infrastructure could have been tenfold with passage of the Iowa biofuels standard.”

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at deller@registermedia.com or 515-284-8457

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