Op-Ed: Biotech growth threatened

Source: By Chris Vincent, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Friday, October 6, 2017

At the Aurora Cooperative, we believe in putting our owners’ equity to work for their future. We look beyond the horizon to find opportunities that invest in our farmer-owners’ success as well as the rural economies they live in. That’s why we teamed up with Pacific Ethanol to produce biofuels in Aurora, where local feedstocks are converted into low-carbon fuels of the 21st century. Investments like these have allowed ethanol production to drive growth across Nebraska, where the state ranks second in biofuels production.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s accelerated growth trend could hit a roadblock under the latest proposal for federal clean energy targets. In the 12-year-old Renewable Fuel Standard, Congress gave biofuels a chance to supply a rising share of the nation’s fuel mix, reduce emissions and displace over 500 million barrels of oil each year.

 But, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 proposal actually would reduce total biofuel consumption. It would leave conventional corn ethanol untouched but would roll back the fuels produced from cobs, stalks, fiber and even waste. This cellulosic ethanol can slash carbon emissions by 100 percent or more. More importantly, it represents exciting growth opportunities for rural communities such as ours.

In fact, at Pacific Ethanol we are installing high-tech equipment in select ethanol plants to turn agricultural byproducts into high-value energy. For a state like Nebraska, with 25 biofuel refineries, these should be exciting times — especially when President Donald Trump campaigned and won on a promise to rural America that he would protect the RFS and reinvigorate the agricultural economy.

Indeed, when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt first announced his proposal for 2018, many farmers breathed a sigh of relief. Despite oil industry pressure, there was no immediate cut to conventional ethanol, a move that would dramatically accelerate the worst downturn in farm incomes since the 1980s.

Then he made last-minute changes to the proposal — rewriting key sections of the growth-oriented draft crafted by technical EPA experts and approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Pruitt’s revisions are online, in a “red-line” document that may or may not have been posted intentionally.

His changes would slash cellulosic biofuel targets from 384 million gallons to 238 million gallons — lower than current levels, potentially freezing investments in manufacturing and energy innovation. As our farmer-owners know, it’s hard to square that approach with the high hopes for growth in Nebraska’s bio-based economy.

Chris Vincent is CEO of the Aurora Cooperative in Aurora, Nebraska.