Agriculture

Branstad lobbies for ethanol at Renewable Fuel Standard public hearing

Hundreds show up at EPA hearing to discuss proposed Renewable Fuel Standard changes

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, right, with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, left, speaks in support of agricultural use for ethanol p
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, right, with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, left, speaks in support of agricultural use for ethanol production as a stimulus to Midwestern states. The National Corn Growers Association and its allies gathered in downtown Kansas City, Kan., to testify at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing about the continuation of programs that use corn for ethanol. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS)
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed lowering the country’s ethanol-use mandates for this year and next, it set up a public hearing to let people tell it what they thought.

On Thursday more than 280 people showed up to testify at the Jack Reardon Convention Center in Kansas City, Kan., and most had the same message: “Don’t mess with RFS!”

The Renewable Fuel Standard — RFS for short — calls for the use of increasing amounts of ethanol each year, and scores of speakers from corn growers and ethanol producers to governors and rural economic development officials told the EPA not to reduce the targets Congress set in a 2007 law.

In testimony and at a noontime rally in Huron Park nearby, Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, the top ethanol and corn-producing state, and Jay Nixon of Missouri made the standard points for ethanol: It helped farmers by creating another market for corn, it created jobs at ethanol plants and in related industries, it reduced U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and it reduced pollution by helping gasoline burn more cleanly.

The amounts the EPA now calls for using — 16.3 billion gallons of ethanol this year and 17.4 billion in 2016 — would still be increases from the past, but also 4 billion gallons less this year than Congress legislated and nearly 5 billion less next year. The United States used 15.9 billion gallons in 2014, almost all of it blended into E10 gasoline — 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline.

Branstad noted that corn prices had fallen from $6 a bushel to around $3.45 now in Iowa, making it a particularly tough time to also cut the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The National Corn Growers Association, which has 43,000 members concentrated in the Midwest, was particularly well represented Thursday. The association president, Chip Bowling, came in from Maryland to testify.

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“An important part of our work is protecting existing markets, and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “We simply cannot afford and will not tolerate efforts to cut the demand for corn, and that’s exactly what your proposal will do. We cannot let this stand. We’ve done our part, our allies in the ethanol industry have done their part, and it’s time for the EPA to side with those of us supporting a domestic renewable fuel that’s better for the environment. It’s what your mission seeks to do.”

The Renewable Fuels Association, representing ethanol plant operators, also was out in force. Its senior vice president, Jeff Cooper, thanked the EPA for having its hearing in the Heartland, rather than in Washington. And he said the Renewable Fuel Standard had worked well, increasing farm incomes, reducing oil imports and boosting renewable fuel production 500 percent.

“Why would we turn our back on that success?” he asked.

Chris Grundler, who oversaw the hearings as the director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said during a break in the hearings that the EPA’s goals were to return certainty to the industry and to “follow Congress’ intent to grow the volumes of renewable fuels used, year over year.” But, he said, “we can’t ignore basic facts.”

All the witnesses will know this year whether their evidence and opinions changed the EPA’s proposal. The agency will review all the comments and issue its final standards by the end of November.

Grundler said the EPA “welcomes an honest debate over these numbers,” and made it clear that all the comments would be heard and considered.

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