Op-Ed: Cuts to RFS would have deep impact on rural America

Source: By Brad Wilson, Daily Times Herald • Posted: Friday, October 13, 2017

Iowans should know that the Trump administration is sharpening the knife, preparing to gut renewable fuels in America. This should be a serious concern to all of us.

In late September, the Environmental Protection Agency put out a notice seeking “input” on whether to slash the volumes of biodiesel required under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard — a brutal blow to a key manufacturing industry. As a biodiesel plant manager, I am stunned by the potential impact this would have on farmers, producers and the communities they help. I implore President Donald Trump to stop EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from breaking a solemn promise the president made to support the RFS and renewable fuels.

EPA’s justification for these cuts consist of nothing more than the oil industry’s talking points. Shrinking the biodiesel category of the RFS would make Pruitt’s “Big Oil” buddies happy, but it would pull the rug out from under biodiesel producers such as Western Iowa Energy. In recent years, we’ve invested several million dollars for upgrades to enable us to make more biodiesel, based on the firm commitment we had from the government.

Now EPA is looking to cut the volumes already promised to us next year — volumes set back in 2016, on which we made business decisions. Even deeper potential cuts for 2019 would be a devastating blow to American jobs, manufacturing, the economy, energy security and farmers. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently said declining farm income is the leading cause of slowing economies in many states, including Iowa and Nebraska.

The administration stripping the RFS is going to make this even worse, especially for small-town America.

Most of us have driven down shuttered Main Streets. A healthy biodiesel industry can help reverse that damage, breathing new life into rural communities with few new economic drivers. Western Iowa Energy is one such example — helping keep Wall Lake, Iowa, thriving. With starting pay of $16 an hour, plus full benefits including health insurance and 401(K) options, our plant provides a livelihood for 30 people in a town with a population of roughly 900, plus additional income to other workers in supporting industries. Biodiesel puts the power of energy production into the hands of American workers and farmers, rather than foreign countries often hostile to us.

Our workers are real people with jobs their families depend upon. As an example, our business gave one of our plant operators, Nate, who has three young children, the opportunity to move back to his hometown after having to move away to a bigger city to find work. That story is not unique at our plant. Reducing the RFS now would force us to make serious cutbacks. Is that what the president wants to see happen in Iowa, at the hand of his own administration?

We know it is not what Iowans want. The Iowa Biodiesel Board recently released public-opinion research showing that more than 70 percent of Iowa voters have a positive opinion of biodiesel and support expanding the RFS.

This support is well-placed by a state that is educated on how significantly renewable fuels have contributed to our economy.

Our company brings more than jobs to this community. We volunteer our help with the distribution of food for the local food bank. We sponsor Future Farmers of America events, volunteer in a local mentoring program, sponsor school backpack programs and school movie nights, and more. Biodiesel plants are some of the best corporate citizens you could ask for. We should ask ourselves, and ask EPA: What has Big Oil done for our communities?