Nebraska lawmaker will join other officials arguing against changing renewable fuels plan

Source: By Joe Duggan / World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2015

LINCOLN — A Nebraska state senator will join governors from Iowa and Missouri at a pro-ethanol rally Thursday in Kansas City as the federal government hears public input on proposed changes to renewable fuels quotas.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson will urge the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse plans to cut billions of gallons from the renewable fuels standard, which sets the amount of biofuels that refiners must blend into gasoline and diesel. Friesen also will speak at an event that will feature remarks by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

“We looked at (the standard) as a road map for how the ethanol industry was going to proceed in Nebraska, and now they want to change it,” Friesen said Wednesday. “I think it should be left to stand the way it is.”

Government officials say hundreds have signed up to testify on the controversial renewable fuels proposal released last month by the EPA. The agency plans to announce its final version of the standard in November.

The plan reduces renewable fuels requirements by 4 billion gallons this year and nearly 5 billion in 2016. The agency says biofuel volumes required by a 2007 law are impossibly high.

Nebraska produced 1.8 billion gallons of ethanol last year, making it the nation’s second-largest maker of the fuel. Iowa led the nation in ethanol production at 3.9 billion gallons in 2014.

In May, all but seven of 
Nebraska’s 49 state senators signed a letter in support of keeping the standard unchanged. The letter, sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, also said the ethanol industry contributes $52 billion annually to the nation’s economy and $5 billion to Nebraska.

Groups such as the American Petroleum Institute are calling for an end to the renewable fuels standard program, which is set to expire in 2022. They argue that the program interferes with free markets, alcohol-based fuels don’t burn well in some engines and the regulations contribute to higher food costs by increasing the price of corn and soybeans.

Marita Noon, director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said she and others believe that the corn ethanol industry would survive without the standard. And when the standard was set in 2007, lawmakers could not have anticipated how much the shale oil boom would increase domestic production of crude oil.

“We felt at the time we were going to be held hostage by the Middle East forever,” Noon said. “But that whole energy paradigm has changed.”

Busloads of FFA members and farmers from several states are planning to attend Thursday’s public hearing. Although Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will not attend, he is sending a staff member from the Nebraska Energy Office to testify on behalf of his administration.

Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, also will testify. Best known for opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the group supports biofuels because they help reduce consumption of fossil fuels, and they provide an economic boost to rural communities, Kleeb said.

“Every ounce of Nebraska-made biofuels blended into our gas means power shifting from the oil industry to our rural towns,” she said.

Taylor Nelson of Jackson, a rural community in northeast Nebraska, said economics are why he’s planning to make the trip to Kansas City. Not only does Nelson, 23, farm alongside his parents, but he and his father also own a gas station in Jackson.

The station offers motorists fuels that contain 15-, 30- and 85-percent ethanol. Ethanol now accounts for 20 percent of the total fuel volume sold at the station, Nelson said.

“It’s proof that customers are interested in these higher ethanol blends,” he said.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.