Iowa’s ethanol industry needs certainty from Biden and Congress

Source: By Editorial Board, The Gazette • Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2021

Federal policymakers should do their jobs and act to secure the Renewable Fuel Standard’s future.

Iowa’s ethanol industry needs certainty from Biden and CongressJoe Biden in Marion in January 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

For more than a decade, the Renewable Fuel Standard has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, especially in agricultural states such as Iowa, which grow corn to turn into ethanol fuel. However, the ethanol industry recently suffered two setbacks in the courts and President Joe Biden’s non-committal stance on the issue is giving rise to uncertainty.

In a case decided last week, a federal court sided with petroleum interests and reversed a Trump administration policy that allowed the sale of higher blend ethanol fuel, known as E15, throughout the year. That 2019 rule bucked by the court did away with limits on E15 in the summer and was lauded by the agriculture community and its allies in Iowa.

In another case, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the oil industry and upheld the controversial renewable fuel waiver process for refiners, which is blamed for undercutting demand for ethanol.

There is significant support among Republicans and Democrats in Congress to consistently enforce and perhaps expand the Renewable Fuel Standard, but political inaction has turned the issue into a political football being passed back and forth between judges and bureaucrats. Congress should do its job and act to secure the program’s future.

During the previous presidential administration, this editorial board and many other Iowans from both political parties frequently criticized then-President Donald Trump for his flimsy support for the biofuels industry. Trump delivered on year-round E15, but the Environmental Protection Agency under his leadership significantly increased the number of waivers granted to refiners, allowing them to produce fuel without ethanol.

The new president so far has not taken any meaningful steps to put the issue to rest.

In a letter last month to Biden appointees, a group of Democratic lawmakers defended the Renewable Fuel Standard amid reports that Biden is exploring more ways to exempt oil refiners from the biofuels mandate. They defended the policy’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and diversifying the nation’s fuels supply.

“When allowed to work as Congress intended,” they wrote, “the RFS has delivered on these goals.”

But it’s clear the system is not working as Congress intended. It’s time for our federal legislators to clarify the law and put an end to the political football game.