The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), other agricultural groups and farm state lawmakers expressed disappointment at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) move last week to reduce biofuel requirements well below those originally set in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.
Although the biofuel targets announced Nov. 30 are higher than the original proposal by the EPA, they fall well short of the levels promised by Congress when the RFS was renewed, said Craig Hill, IFBF president.
Falling short of promises
"While an increase of biofuels from the original proposed rule is welcome news, the simple truth is this falls far short of promises made to Iowa farmers by Congress in 2007," Hill said. "What’s worse is this makes it apparent that the EPA under this administration is continuing its pattern of ignoring and violating Congressional intent, at the detriment of farmers and our economy, which is especially troubling in Iowa, where one out of every five jobs comes from agriculture."
Along with leading the nation in corn production, Iowa is the country’s largest ethanol producer.
In its final ruling last week, the EPA said refiners will be required to blend just over 18 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2016, an increase from the agency’s 17.4 billion gallons proposed in May, but well below the 22.25 billion gallon target set by Congress in 2007. The agency made similar changes in so-called advanced biofuels, which includes cellulosic ethanol from corn stover and other materials, with 3.6 billion gallons mandated for next year. That’s an increase from the 3.4 billion previously proposed and about one-half of what Congress approved in 2007.
EPA officials said the reduced biofuel requirements go beyond historical levels and will grow the amount of biofuel over time. "Our standards provide for ambitious, achievable growth," according to Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
Disagreeing with plan
But Iowa lawmakers strongly disagreed with the agency’s assessment.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who helped lead the charge against the EPA move to lower the biofuel requirements said: "Unfortunately, the decision shows the lack of interest in providing consumers a choice at the pump, creating jobs and increasing incomes in rural America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
Need increases, not cuts
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey agreed that the EPA should be looking for ways to increase, not decrease, biofuel use, especially at a time when crop supplies are robust. "We need a strong RFS to encourage retailers to invest in the infrastructure necessary to make renewable fuels available to customers," he said. "With the low price of corn and beans, now is the time to grow the renewable fuels industry, not undermine it."
Iowa’s Congressional delegation also blasted the EPA decision to reduce biofuel requirements.
The EPA, said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, "doesn’t seem to appreciate that the law on the books requires strong biofuels targets and that consumers like the chance to use alternate fuels. Instead, the EPA took a flawed approach that seems to buy into Big Oil’s rhetoric."
Setting back progress
The new rule, Grassley added, is not only more than two years late, "but it also sets back the development of next-generation biofuels."
Hill and others questioned the calculations that the EPA used to lower the biofuel requirements and wondered why the agency listened to the flawed arguments of the petroleum industry and other opponents of ethanol, who said that corn supplies or infrastructure can’t support growth in ethanol production and use.
"Production is there, the technology and innovation to grow biofuels is there, but once again, the EPA continues to disappoint the American farmer," Hill said.