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EPA buckling under Iowa political pressure to preserve, strengthen RFS

Article cover photo
Gov. Kim Reynolds says she will continue to fight for a robust renewable fuels standard for farmers like Dennis Bogaards of Pella, left, and all Iowans during a press conference Oct. 18 at Two Rivers Cooperative in Pella. (Photo by: Matthew Wilde/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

President Donald Trump called Gov. Kim Reynolds Wednesday morning to reiterate his support for the renewable fuels standard (RFS).

So did Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, whose recent proposals would slash biofuel use and harm farmers. Reynolds described the conversations as “constructive” to more than 50 renewable fuels advocates and media during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Two Rivers Cooperative in Pella.

Reynolds said the unsolicited calls prior to the event and scheduled meetings next week with Pruitt and Vice President Mike Pence indicate the administration understands the importance of keeping previous promises to support the RFS.

“They are feeling the pressure,” Reynolds said. “He (President Trump) made it clear he stood with the renewable fuels standard. I felt very good after the conversations with him and Administrator Pruitt.”

However, neither promised no cuts to RFS levels.

“That’s why we have to keep up the pressure and can’t let down,” Reynolds said, sporting a Don’t Mess with the RFS button. “We all need to continue to talk about the importance and stand behind a robust renewable fuels standard.”

The governor encouraged Iowans to tell the EPA, White House and lawmakers to follow the spirit and intent of the law, which is to increase the amount of biodiesel and ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply.

The comment period concerning the EPA’s proposed cuts to 2018 and 2019 RFS levels for biodiesel and allowing ethanol exports to qualify for RFS compliance ends today. Renewable fuel advocates say both actions would cripple the industry and rural America and reduce already low commodity prices.

Supporters can contact the EPA by phone and/or email. Visit www.biodiesel.org or www.nbb.org to find out more. Click on the “Fueling Action” icon to submit a pre-drafted letter or personalized comments to the agency. Contact the White House by phone and email:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

Trump steps in

A Bloomberg story published Wednesday indicates pressure from Iowa’s political leaders — Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, along with others, met with Pruitt this week and each have spoken with the president — is working.

The article said Trump directed Pruitt to “back off any changes that would dilute a federal mandate for biodiesel use and a proposal to allow exported renewable fuel to count toward domestic quotas.” A top EPA official said Trump’s urging was unnecessary because Pruitt wasn’t planning on weakening the mandate, according to the report.

The EPA released a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) Sept. 26 requesting comment on options for reducing 2018 RFS requirements set last year by 315 million gallons for biomass-based biodiesel and 473 million gallons for advance biofuels and total renewable volumes.

In July, the agency proposed reducing the 2019 advanced biofuel mandate, which is the predominant contributor, by 40 million ethanol-equivalent gallons. The biomass-based diesel proposed volume was flatlined. The NODA also seeks comment to reduce 2019 levels, potentially back to 1 billion gallons.

Grant Kimberley, Iowa Biodiesel Board executive director, said the EPA can’t use its general waiver authority to reduce RFS volumes because there’s neither an inadequate supply of advanced biofuels, severe economic harm or a shortage of feedstocks.

“I urge President Trump and the EPA not to buckle in the interests of certain oil companies and refiners, but rather, stay true to promises made on the campaign trial to benefit Iowans and all Americans,” Kimberley said.

RFS positives reinforced

Pella farmer Dennis Bogaards took time away from harvest to tell the nation — the event was streamed live via satellite and reportedly watched by Pruitt — why renewable fuels are so important to him and rural America. He was one of five speakers.

Renewable fuels convert an oversupply of soybean oil, corn oil, animal fats and corn starch into clean-burning fuels that help the environment and improve commodity prices, Bogaards said. Biodiesel alone adds 63 cents to the value of every bushel of soybeans and lowers soybean meal costs for livestock feed by $21 per ton, studies show.

“Biodiesel and ethanol have provided a boost to commodity prices for farmers and, ultimately, to our bottom lines,” the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) member said. “This allows us to support local economies by buying and upgrading equipment, improving infrastructure on our farms and supporting our local co-ops like Two Rivers.

“All these touchpoints provide jobs and money to businesses in small towns that might not have otherwise seen growth,” Bogaards continued.

After hearing that the president and Pruitt reached out to Reynolds Wednesday, Bogaards went back to combining soybeans feeling good about the future.

“I’m more hopeful,” he said. “They didn’t want to wait until next week’s meetings, which is a good sign.”

Iowa leads the nation in renewable fuels production and the state is poised to widen the gap.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), said the state added about 600 million gallons of capacity the last two years at biodiesel, ethanol and cellulosic ethanol facilities.

If all plants operate at capacity, Shaw said an IRFA-funded study indicates an additional 11,000 jobs will be created directly and indirectly, a 25 percent increase. That would boost Iowa incomes by about $500 million, up 24 percent, the study shows.

“We’re really talking about a state that has seen farm income down for three years in a row and the potential shot in the arm the economy can use,” Shaw said. “The key is we need these plants up and operating at capacity, and a robust RFS is key to that.”

It’s a message that’s starting to hit home per Wednesday’s outreach by Trump and Pruitt.

“That’s progress, we’re excited about that,” Shaw said. “But the proof is in the pudding. We need to see final numbers and results.”

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at aputze@iasoybeans.com.

©2017 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.

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August 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.