World-Herald editorial: EPA should stand by biofuel

Source: By Omaha World-Herlad Editorial Board • Posted: Monday, June 15, 2015

Uncle Sam got it wrong.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “ambitious, but responsible” proposal to lower the 2015-16 renewable fuels standards set by Congress is neither.

It would cut the growing amount of renewables that the feds require to be blended into U.S. fuel by 4 billion gallons this year and by nearly 5 billion gallons in 2016.

Since the majority of U.S. renewable fuel comes from corn-based ethanol, decreasing the amounts required would disproportionately hurt the ethanol industry.

Congress set a 2015 target of 20.5 billion gallons of fuel from renewable sources and a 2016 goal of 22.3 billion gallons. The EPA’s proposal would lower those targets to 16.3 billion gallons this year and 17.4 billion gallons next year.

The country needs Congress to step in and tell the EPA to follow the original law and its mission. Oil lobbyists and the EPA are wrong to argue that the biofuels industry cannot meet those targets, or that the nation’s fuel supply cannot adapt.

Ethanol and biodiesel supporters say the bio- fuels industry could have risen to the challenge of increased production to meet the original goals.

The EPA’s changes risk delaying or damaging development of next-generation biofuels. Biofuel investors in Iowa and Nebraska now face uncertainty as the EPA winds toward issuing a final rule this fall.

Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and pollutes less. It bolsters national security by reducing reliance on hostile nations for oil. The biofuel creates and supports jobs. It helps stabilize corn prices in volatile times. Its byproducts help ranchers.

Midlands lawmakers, who’ve spent years lobbying on behalf of the law’s standards, expressed anger with the president and the oil lobby.

Forty-two of Nebraska’s 49 state senators sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging her to support ethanol. That followed a series of letters and statements from Midlands members of Congress, along with Govs. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Terry Branstad of Iowa.

“President Obama’s EPA continues to buy into Big Oil’s argument that the infrastructure isn’t in place to handle the fuel volumes required by law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a longtime ethanol champion. “Big Oil’s obstruction and the EPA’s delays and indecision have harmed biofuel producers and delayed infrastructure developments.”

Nebraska is the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, making more than 1.8 billion gallons last year at 24 plants. Iowa is first, with 3.9 billion gallons. It makes sense that Iowans and Nebraskans would want to protect an industry that supports our agricultural-based economies.

“EPA has to be given some credit for attempting to get the (Renewable Fuel Standard) back on track by increasing the renewable volume obligations over time,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, told the Des Moines Register. “But the frustrating fact is the agency continues to misunderstand the clear intent of the statute — to drive innovation in both ethanol production and ethanol marketing.”

We need to think big picture.

Right now, American oil is flowing. Right now, automotive technology limits the amount of ethanol many cars can burn to 10 percent. Right now, cellulosic ethanol is in its infancy. Right now, there’s enough ethanol being produced that some is shipped and sold overseas.

But the day will come when some or all of those realities flip. Oil supplies inevitably tighten. Cars will advance and burn ethanol more efficiently. Cellulosic ethanol’s market share will grow.

It will be harder for ethanol to fill the gap if the feds back off the ethanol mandate now. Because that requirement is helping the biofuels industry take risks. And those risks will fuel the future.