Lawmakers tout EPA plan’s boost to farmers, ‘certainty’

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 25, 2018

EPA’s approval yesterday of sorghum oil as a feedstock under the renewable fuel standard gives a big boost to an underappreciated fuel source, lawmakers said.

EPA’s approval will also send an important signal to investors in the biofuel industry, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said at a roundtable with acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at the agency’s headquarters. Wheeler was joined by lawmakers and industry representatives.

“It provides certainty. It provides predictability,” Fischer said.

EPA announced that it would allow oil derived from sorghum to qualify as an ingredient for biofuel as part of the RFS, the 2005 law that mandates blending of biofuel into the nation’s fuel supply.

The decision comes after three years of lobbying by the sorghum industry to demonstrate that the use of sorghum oil doesn’t increase greenhouse gases compared with other sources.

Wheeler said the decision sets the stage for more homegrown fuel, an objective of the RFS. He has been under close watch by members of Congress who criticized former Administrator Scott Pruitt for appearing to step back on biofuel mandates.

Other big decisions on the RFS remain, including on increased access for higher-ethanol fuels and the future of “hardship” waivers granted to small refineries. The event also contrasted with the potential difficulties farmers face from trade spats and the uncertainty surrounding passage of a farm bill this year.

Opening a pathway for sorghum oil will encourage investors who have been waiting to put money into processing facilities, by reassuring them that sorghum will be a part of the advanced biofuels industry, Fischer said.

Although sorghum — and advanced biofuel overall — is a small part of the RFS compared with corn, EPA’s move may have bigger political implications by showing farmers that the agency isn’t abandoning the RFS.

Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), whose state leads the nation in sorghum production, told reporters at the event that he’s been troubled by EPA’s previous actions on the RFS. The sorghum decision, however, offers hope to a big segment of agriculture in his state, he said.

“This is a big day for my farmers,” Marshall said.

And although the feedstocks aren’t big in the overall context of the RFS, farmers can use good news at a time of falling farm incomes, lawmakers said.

“As we all know, farm country is hurting right now,” Fischer said.