Debate over the RFS is playing out on the political stage: The public discussion rarely considers American consumers.

May 6, 2018 |

By Donnell Rehagen. CEO, National Biodiesel Board

The biofuels industry found itself in an unusual position for much of the past 12 months. Typically confined to debates in the trade press, biofuels-related headlines are now splashed across the mainstream media. It’s new for most observers to see a host of Washington, D.C., political analysts race to be first in reporting on the latest back-and-forth between the EPA and champions of both the renewable fuels and oil and gas industries.

Of course, the issue at hand is the Renewable Fuels Standard and the EPA’s recent penchant for providing exemptions that release petroleum refineries from their obligations under the program. The intrigue is easy to explain by the actors cast in this drama. There is the aforementioned EPA, often a punching bag on both the right and the left, as a central character. Any tale starring President Trump is guaranteed to be a best-seller in today’s super-charged political environment. Add some of the most prominent names on Capitol Hill, stir, and voila! You have an instant spectacle, certain to be a box office hit.

Unfortunately, after the curtains are pulled back, the coverage is focused on what politicos determine is a fight between “Big Oil” and “Big Ag.” The headline, “Trump’s Trade Moves Hurt Farmers. Here’s How He’s Trying to Make it Up to Them,” sets the stage for a Washington Post article that sensationalizes the intersection of the RFS, a trade war and family farms, is just one example.

Headlines like that might be central to pulling the audience into the story, but regrettably, the narrative belies the fate of who should be the protagonist in this production: American consumers.

After all, the RFS was designed to address the concerns of American families. And it’s been working as intended since approved by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. America’s most significant U.S. energy policy is reducing pollution, diversifying our transportation fuel portfolio and supporting hundreds of thousands of good-paying, green-collar jobs from the California coastline to the mountains of New Hampshire.

While it’s impossible to ignore the political implications from decisions at EPA and the White House, it’s crucial that no one lose sight of what is at stake. The rewards of a strong RFS start with cleaner air. Whether the current EPA Administrator prioritizes carbon reductions is less consequential than ensuring the air we breathe is cleaner as result of his actions.

Biodiesel receives support from leaders in the American Lung Association, which is significant in that America’s advanced biofuel is powering school buses and providing a healthier environment for schoolchildren by reducing smog and dangerous, cancer-causing carcinogens. The EPA Administrator ought to recognize the significance of these benefits for all Americans.

Diversification of our transportation fuels supply is also another important objective of the RFS. The price at the pump has already soared 70 cents/gallon over the past 18 months – and is expected to top $3.00/gallon in coming weeks – despite the proliferation of new technologies to access once-unreachable oil deposits.

That’s because no matter how much we drill for domestic reserves, the price of that oil is still determined by global markets that are primarily affected by geopolitics in the Middle East and elsewhere. We can only reduce American vulnerability to the volatility of oil prices by diversifying our fuels mix at the pump.

And while the media likes to characterize the agriculture industry in this story as “Big Ag,” the reality is that the industry is personified by family farms, some of which have been in the same families for more than 100 years. Many today are barely turning a profit, if at all. Our renewable fuels industry is providing new markets for those farmers and breathing new life into rural communities that were devastated in the Great Recession.

The next act in this story is scheduled to take place this week. Again, the setting is the White House where Senate supporters from opposing positions are scheduled to meet with the President. We should all hope they ignore the political drama in the papers and instead focus on how to provide American families with the happy ending they deserve.

About the Author: Donnell Rehagen is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Biodiesel Board. With nearly 200 member companies, NBB is the leading U.S. trade association representing the biodiesel industry.

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Category: Thought Leadership

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