Nominee promises to be ethanol champion

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Trump administration’s nominee for the No. 2 slot at the Department of Agriculture pledged yesterday to be a champion for ethanol, as the administration weighs whether to hold back on some renewable fuel goals.

Stephen Censky, up for deputy secretary of Agriculture, said at his confirmation hearing with the Senate Agriculture Committee that he will stand for the federal renewable fuel standard, although USDA serves mainly in an advisory role to U.S. EPA, which sets renewable fuel volumes.

“The renewable fuel standard is very important to rural America and to our farmers,” said Censky, longtime CEO of the American Soybean Association.

Censky was responding to questions from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is pushing for increased mandates, including asking EPA to reverse a proposal not to boost levels of advanced biofuels in the next year.

“I think we’ve heard strong support from the president, from Secretary [Sonny] Perdue, in support of the renewable fuel standard, and I look forward to, if confirmed, to be there and to be a champion for the appropriate levels there,” Censky said. Perdue was in the audience.

EPA’s proposed renewable fuel volumes for 2018 would keep up with congressional mandates for corn ethanol — by far the biggest category — but the agency trimmed the advanced biofuel target by 40 million gallons, to 4.24 billion gallons in 2018, citing market constraints.

EPA also proposed holding biomass-based biodiesel steady at 2.1 billion gallons, despite pressure for greater amounts from industry groups and some lawmakers.

Klobuchar said she was looking to EPA to increase some of the targets when its final rule is released later this year; the rule is under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, told reporters at a roundtable discussion yesterday that EPA’s signals on advanced biofuels are “more troubling,” even as the agency set a supportive tone for corn ethanol that reflects President Trump’s favorable public comments.

“Going backward on advanced biofuels as the proposal did is unnecessary and contradictory to the spirit and the intent of the RFS,” Dinneen said, adding that he is “quite certain” EPA will issue a final rule by Nov. 30.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) implored the nominees to tout E15 fuel — or 15 percent ethanol — in dealings with EPA and the Energy Department.

“I’m sure you all know of the significant weight that the petroleum industry puts on EPA in the past to curb whatever they can under existing law,” Grassley said, asking the nominees to “be a spokesman for E15 with these agencies.”

Renewable fuels aren’t making big gains on Capitol Hill but aren’t suffering big losses either as efforts to repeal or scale back the RFS haven’t showed signs of action anytime soon.

In the House, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment, has supported capping ethanol mandates and is looking to broker a compromise among RFS supporters and critics (E&E News PM, March 1).

Dinneen said he sees hope for compromise in Shimkus’ effort. Shimkus’ 15th District is home to more than 22,000 farms, mainly growing grain corn and soybeans, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

“If there’s common ground to be found, he can find it,” Dinneen said.