We deserve a leader on renewable fuels

Source: By Editorial Board, Rochester Post Bulletin • Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2019

It’s important to separate President Donald Trump’s words from his actions. That was made obvious last month when the administration sided with the Environmental Protection Agency against the U.S. Department of Agriculture with regards to renewable fuels.

The best that can be said for the White House’s renewable fuels strategy is it is wildly inconsistent. On the one hand, the president pitches himself as a friend of renewables in Midwest appearances. On the other hand, when push comes to shove, the president caves to fossil fuel interests.

The most recent example involves promises made regarding the biofuels mandate and the waivers granted to fossil fuel refineries.

The administration promised to ensure that 15 billion gallons of biofuel be blended into the nation’s fuel supply by in 2020.

That was good news for farming interests, but it was more than offset when the EPA succeeded in maintaining biofuel blending waivers for refineries. The EPA decision means the 15-billion-gallon blend requirement will not overset the willy-nilly granting of waivers.

The decision leaves the renewable fuel industry feeling betrayed.

“This is not what we agreed to,’’ said Monte Shaw, top executive with the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Indeed, it is not.

It’s obvious that the Trump administration, which calls the agreement great for small refineries and farmers, wants it both ways. Policy decisions — be they made for short-term political gain or for the ultimate good of the country — have lasting impacts.

Ethanol processors — so vital to rural economies in both Minnesota and Iowa — are struggling. Production cutbacks, plant closures and reductions in the labor force have become the norm due to thin profits caused, in part, by excess supply. The importation of South American-produced ethanol and outdated technology in some older facilities has made the situation worse.

It is said with justification that President Trump sides with one side over the other based on the last person who bends his ear. That may have been the case with the confounding waiver decision.

Renewable fuel policy has been in a state of flux for several decades and the latest administration ensures the sorry state will continue. The hope that Congress, working with the White House, would produce consistent and sensible renewable energy policies has faded.

It is apparent that if the nation is ever to move away from an overdependence on fossil fuels, leadership must come from individual states.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is among those who are leading in the effort. He is committed to making the state a leader in renewables — be it from ethanol, the wind or the sun. California, too, is a beacon of hope for those convinced that the nation must move in a new direction.

The Trump administration lacks vision and it is not a friend of biofuels. Don’t let the president’s appearances in farm country fool you. The administration, with regards to renewables, is all about expediency.

Farmers and the nation deserve better. The caravan of Democratic presidential hopefuls should be asked to spell out their renewable energy plans. Many of them will be in Iowa soliciting support in the weeks ahead.

Take the opportunity to question them about farm policy and biofuels.