Trump Renewable Fuels Standard announcement draws mixed reviews

Source: By Elisa Sand and Dan Crisler, Dakota Media Group • Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2019

President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard was met with praise from South Dakota’s elected officials and agricultural organizations and indifference from a major South Dakota ethanol producer and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the organization, under the direction of Trump, will look to ensure that more than 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol will be blended into the nation’s fuel supply annually beginning in 2020, following a period of public comment.

The Trump administration’s announcement would restore the federal mandate requiring at least 15 billion gallons of renewable fuel in the nation’s fuel supply. In large part, that has been not been met because of the administration granting waivers to oil refineries that, according to the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, have led to a loss of 4.04 billion gallons of renewable fuel in the marketplace.

While the Corn Growers praised the announcement, calling it a step “in the right direction,” Glacial Lakes Energy CEO Jim Seurer said Friday it does little to move the needle.

Glacial Lakes owns ethanol plants in Aberdeen, Huron, Mina and Watertown.

“As you back away from this, there are not a lot of hard-and-fast details, and there’s really no increase in volume that we didn’t really have before,” Seurer said.

He said the ethanol industry already exceeds the requirement by producing 16 billion to 17 billion gallons of renewable fuel each year.

Seurer expressed concern that the Trump administration’s announcement falls short of addressing a more pressing issue in allowing the nation to adopt and purchase higher ethanol blends. He also said ethanol advocates missed an opportunity to solicit more support for higher ethanol blends, which he said would lead to better air quality.

“In my opinion, this falls short of what we could have had and what we should have. That’s open and free access to higher blends like E30 to the market,” Seurer said. “My fear about all of this is that the industry has locked themselves into a 15 percent maximum (ethanol) blend when in Watertown and most of northeast South Dakota we’ve been able to prove we can go up to at least a 30 percent blend.

South Dakota’s elected officials were more excited.

“(Friday’s) announcement is a win for South Dakota farmers, ethanol producers and anyone that cares about a strong rural economy and job growth,” U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said in a news release. “I’m proud of the coalition of farm-state members that made it clear that we must maintain the integrity of the (Renewable Fuel Standard) as Congress intended.

“By maintaining the integrity of the (standard) and preventing the abuse of Small Refinery Exemptions, as well as forward-looking proposals that cut red tape and build biofuel infrastructure, the Administration showed they are committed to rural America,” he said.

U.S. Sen. John Thune. R-S.D., said the announcement means the EPA will make related reforms to improve implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard and increase ethanol blending.

“It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the EPA’s use of small refinery waivers, a process that — when used for its intended purpose — can help alleviate certain hardships for small companies that truly need it,” Thune said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the EPA has abused this process over the last few years, having granted unnecessary waivers to large companies, which has significantly undermined the RFS. These actions have had a direct and negative effect on operations in South Dakota and other states throughout the Corn Belt, which is why I congratulate the president on today’s announcement.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem also called the announcement a win for producers.

“This move is absolutely critical for South Dakota farmers and ranchers as recent years have seen lower commodity prices and unstable market conditions,” she said in a news release.

Peterson, who represents western Minnesota in the U.S. House, expressed similar sentiments as Seurer.

Co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Biofuels Caucus, he said in a release, “Next week the President is expected to be in Minnesota and I look forward to hearing details about how his EPA will get back to the 15 billion gallons that are promised in law and address the 4 billion gallons lost in waivers that have already been granted. Until we have answers to those questions, (Friday’s) announcement is just another IOU to struggling farmers and shuttered biofuel plants.”