Joni of Ernst leads the defense of the RFS

May 14, 2020 |

In Washington, the Renewable Fuel Standard is being besieged again, and while it is starting to feel like a Siege They Never Stop Trying and Never Works out of a Monty Python episode, industry trade associations say it is time once again to man the ramparts and pour burning oil, throw stones and otherwise defend the castle against the attackers.

Leading the defenses is Joan of Ernst, er, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa along with Tina Smith of Minnesota, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Two Republicans, two Democrats, now urging the Trump Administration to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard and reject requests for the RFS to be waived.

Worth noting that the actual Joan of Arc was a farm girl from Domremy, one of the most fortested and pastoral sectors of France, and that Senator Ernst was a military leader of some renown, as a company commader deployed in the Iraq war, eventually rising to lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard.  Joan of Arc rose to fame defending at the Siege of Orleans. We’ll make the comparison warmly based on the parallels.

Ernst and Smith are the chair and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee, respectively, on Rural development and Energy.

In a letter to President Trump, Ernst, Smith et al write, “Waiving the RFS would cause further harm to the U.S. economy, especially our most vulnerable rural communities. It would also exacerbate the effects experienced by the biofuel sector as a result of COVID-19, causing far-reaching detrimental impacts on employment, farmers, food security, fuel prices, and the environment. The resiliency of America’s renewable fuel industry has already suffered as a result of the EPA’s drastic expansion of the small refinery waiver program in recent years.”

Further, the senators reject the legality of the waivers, “Recent requests for a waiver of the RFS are unjustified and clearly do not satisfy the rigorous requirements necessary for EPA consideration. RFS waivers can only be granted by EPA if there is a demonstration of ‘severe harm’ to the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States that is directly caused by the RFS. None of these standards are met today and the following reasons clearly demonstrate the case for rejecting the waiver requests…”  

Elsewhere, a petition for COVID-19 relief

Also, the leading associations called on House and Senate leaders to ensure the next round of COVID-19 relief does not overlook U.S. ethanol and biodiesel production.

The joint letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoes bipartisan appeals from House and Senate members, as well as governors across the heartland.

It was signed by the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, the National Biodiesel Board, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, the National Farmers Union, the National Oilseed Processors Association, the National Renderers Association, the National Sorghum Producers, and Fuels America.

“The situation we face is dire,” wrote biofuel and farm advocates. “More than 130 biofuel plants have already partially or fully shut down as motor fuel demand plunged to 50-year lows. America’s biofuel plants purchase annually more than one-third of U.S. corn and U.S. soybean oil, and the loss of those markets has depressed farm income and will continue to push corn and soybean prices down dramatically. The damage has rippled across the entire agricultural supply chain.”

The letter notes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) excluded the biofuel sector from initial aid under CARES Act, despite urgent letters of support to Secretary Sonny Perdue from broad, bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate.

“While it is important that biofuel producers are included in any infrastructure or tax legislation designed to hasten America’s long-term economic recovery from COVID-19, relief is needed now to ensure these producers are positioned bring renewable fuel production back online when conditions improve,” wrote the rural leaders. “It is vital that the next COVID-19 relief package include immediate, temporary, and direct assistance to help the U.S. biofuel industry retain its skilled workforce and mitigate the impact of plant closures on the food and feed supply chain and rural communities.”

A copy of the full letter and a list of signers is available here.

Stakeholders on the RFS waiver effort

“Senator Ernst understands that rural communities in Iowa and across the nation depend on the renewable fuels industry for job creation, economic vitality, and new market opportunities for farmers,” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “That’s why she continues to lead the fight to protect and defend the Renewable Fuel Standard against baseless attacks like the recent waiver requests. Just as RFA underscored in its recent letter to EPA, Senator Ernst and her colleagues point out that these RFS waiver requests are completely unjustified and do not satisfy statutory requirements. Senator Ernst is a steadfast and passionate warrior for renewable fuels, and we greatly appreciate her continued leadership and determination.”

“Corn farmers appreciate Senators Ernst, Smith, Grassley and Stabenow leading this effort in support of farmers and the RFS,” said Kevin Ross, Iowa farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). “We need to maintain markets, not take them away. With the significant shut down of ethanol production already reducing corn demand and impacting corn prices, unjustified requests to undermine the RFS would bring more economic harm to agriculture. Corn farmers thank the Senators for sending a clear message to reject attempts to waive RFS requirements and make a difficult situation worse.”

“America’s biodiesel producers appreciate Senator Ernst’s strong leadership in demonstrating Senate opposition to efforts to undermine the Renewable Fuel Standard. The current economic crisis is causing a painful ripple effect throughout America’s agricultural economy and food supply chain, including for biodiesel producers. Biodiesel and renewable diesel producers are an important part of the nation’s critical agriculture infrastructure. Maintaining a strong RFS will be important to the entire nation’s economic recovery,” said Kurt Kovarik, Vice President of Federal Affairs, National Biodiesel Board.

“We’re grateful to our champions who are standing shoulder to shoulder with rural communities confronting a wave of biofuel plant closures, farm bankruptcies, and demand destruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emily Skor, Growth Energy CEO. “The oil industry’s transparent attempts to capitalize on the current health crisis to steal markets from farmers and biofuel producers threatens to dash hopes of an economic recovery in America’s farm belt.  Our lawmakers and governors have made it clear that any move to further weaken biofuel markets is a non-starter, and we urge the administration to swiftly reject oil-backed attacks on the RFS.  Now, more than ever, we need leaders to stand up for rural America and deliver the urgent relief our industry needs to protect biofuel jobs and their vital role in the agricultural supply chain – from producing animal feed for livestock operations to carbon dioxide for meatpackers and municipal water treatment.”

“We thank Governors Walz and Noem and the Governors Biofuels Coalition for opposing this unjustified request,” said Stephanie Batchelor, Vice President of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. “Unfortunately, this gratuitous effort by the oil industry to use the economic pain Americans are facing to circumvent their long-standing obligations to increase the use of clean fuels is unsurprising given that they spent millions trying to fend off their obligations even before the pandemic. As we rebuild our economy, we must invest in more resilient technologies, cleaner fuels, and more sustainable manufacturing processes.  This starts by supporting the farmers and sustainable fuel producers in rural America.”

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