Vilsack: Candidates need to do more than support RFS

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Midwest ethanol and biodiesel supporters and producers Tuesday that it’s not enough for presidential candidates to just support the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Vilsack said candidates need to support many of the initiatives surrounding renewable fuel that help open markets and create the new technologies used in the industry.

“There are people around the country who don’t see the same benefits that we see, who are attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard in the courts, and who have been attacking it in the halls of Congress,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The federal mandate requires ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, an amount that’s been recently scaled back by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We need to point out the benefits to those who oppose this industry,” said Vilsack, Iowa’s former governor, who spoke at the 10th annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona.

Ethanol and biodiesel’s benefits begin with consumers, pulling gasoline prices down about 40 cents lower than fuel without ethanol, because of added competition, supporters said.

Other benefits range from creating jobs to stabilizing corn and soybean prices for U.S. farmers to spinning off green byproducts — “chemicals, materials, fabrics and fibers,” Vilsack said.

The federal government also supports providing money for renewable fuels research and developing renewable fuels for the U.S. Defense Department so they don’t have to depend on foreign oil.

“The ships and planes in the Pacific Theater depend far too much on fuel that has to go through the Strait of Hormuz,” he said. “Our goal is to get 50 percent of our Navy’s fuel” from renewable sources.

USDA is working with defense and energy leaders to develop competitively priced “drop in” diesel and jet fuel substitutes. Vilsack said USDA has invested $332 million over six years.

Vilsack also said U.S. leaders seek to open markets for ethanol and biodiesel in India, China and other countries, reducing their reliance on oil from enemy countries.

“The reality is that even within the biofuels industry, there are a number of ways to help,” Vilsack said.

He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide Iowa with $5 million to put in about 100 blender pumps across the state. The pumps provide for higher blends of renewable fuel.

Gov. Terry Branstad said the state will provide $2.5 million for the program. Companies must provide a private match.

Monte Shaw, president of the Iowa Renewable Fuel Association, said there’s a misconception that the renewable fuel mandate ends in 2022. Shaw said the mandate continues, but under the discretion of Environmental Protection Agency rule-making.

He said the industry and nation still need the Renewable Fuel Standard to overcome market obstacles.

“Oil will still have its distribution monopoly, still have its petroleum mandate, still have a century of subsidies,” Shaw said. “With the market so tilted toward oil, you’d never have a fair negotiation.

“Oil companies would come to ethanol producers and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to pay. Take it or leave it,'” he said. “That’s not what I want to see.”