Americans Vote for Biofuels

According to a new national poll conducted by American Viewpoint on behalf of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Americans support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and other key federal initiatives that support the expanded use of biofuels such as ethanol. Sixty-five percent of adults support the RFS, up from 61 percent in 2012.

E85 pump in Ottumwa Iowa

Photo: Joanna Schroeder

Bob Dinneen, RFA president and CEO said of the poll results, “It is telling that support for the RFS continues to grow in spite of the relentless attacks on ethanol and the RFS financed by Big Oil’s deep pockets. Repeatedly Americans have decisively said they place a premium on energy independence, job creation, and a cleaner environment.”

For these reasons and more, Americans overwhelmingly support the RFS for its ability to strengthen this great nation,” continued Dinneen. “Members of Congress and the Obama Administration should review this data before taking action to reduce or eliminate a program with broad national appeal and tangible energy and environmental benefits.”

Expanding on the polling results, Dinneen added, “Americans see great value in investing in the next generation of fuel, cellulosic ethanol, and they support the idea of an open fuel standard which encourages the manufacturing of cars that run on any number of alternatives to petroleum. In fact, Americans appear to have a visceral dislike for the billions and billions of dollars in government subsidies and special tax treatment that Big Oil has enjoyed for 100 years.”

Sixty-six percent of the respondents favor incentives for the expansion of cellulosic ethanol while 78 percent of respondents favor auto manufacturers to build cars that will run on fuel other than oil. In addition, 66 percent of respondents oppose oil company subsidies while only 22 percent favor oil subsidies.

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Growth Energy Applauds Senator Stabenow

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the economic benefits of advanced biofuels today.

In response to the hearing, Growth Energy CEO, Tom Buis, said, “I am grateful to Sen. Stabenow for taking the time to investigate the true impact of biofuels on our nation’s economy. First generation biofuels have created nearly 400,000 jobs, revitalized our rural communities and have reduced our dependence on foreign oil Growth_Energy_logo (1)while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These first generation fuels have set the foundation for further advancements in next generation ethanol, including deriving the fuel from sources such as farm waste, plants, and wood waste. With over a billion tons of available biomass, the potential for advanced biofuels are limitless.”

Buis noted that higher blends such as E15 and next generation biofuels will help the country break through the blendwall. He said they have the ability to further reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, create as many as 130,000 more jobs in our rural communities, further support farmers and present consumers with a choice and savings at the pump. But in order to achieve these goals, he said, we need to focus on developing the infrastructure to give consumers access to the fuel of their choice.”

One of the key testimonies was presented by CEO of Richard Childress Racing and Growth Energy Board Member, Richard Childress. His testimony largely focused on the benefits of biofuels in NASCAR and the substantial improvements Sunoco Green E15, the 15 percent ethanol blend used in the sport, has had in the world of stock car racing.

“Sunoco Green E15 has proven to be a reliable fuel for Richard Childress Racing and for the entire NASCAR community,” said Childress in his written testimony. “Now in its fourth season of use, the fuel has been driven more than 5 million miles with no reported engine conditions or increased maintenance issues. The fuel has increased horsepower while decreasing emissions by 20 percent.”

Buis concluded, “By reducing Renewable Volume Obligations, which the EPA recently proposed, we will see a major impact on the infrastructure needed for these higher blends as well as the development of next generation biofuels, which could impede future economic growth for our entire country.”

ASA Concerned over Argentine Biodiesel for RFS

argentinaflagWhile Argentine biodiesel is having a hard time getting into Europe, its prospects to make it into the U.S. could be boosted. And that is worrying soybean growers in this country. This story from Agri-View says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering whether it should allow Argentine biodiesel to be eligible under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The potential for CARBIO, the trade association representing Argentine biodiesel producers, with its 1.3 billion gallons of biodiesel production capacity and export subsidies, prompted the American Soybean Association (ASA) to send a letter to EPA to register its concerns.

ASA believes that the far reaching impacts of this issue require an exhaustive review by EPA that includes a public comment period and input from the various stakeholders as well as other government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

EPA must be made aware of the fact that Argentine biodiesel is being heavily subsidized into world markets, and the European Union already has imposed anti-dumping duties on Argentine biodiesel imports due to the significant subsidies that Argentine biodiesel receives as the result of Argentina’s differential export tax system (DET).

ASA also says the CARBIO application needs to be done far in advance so EPA can figure in the amount of Argentine biodiesel when calculating the Required Volume Obligation (RVO) for Biomass-based diesel for that year.

IRFA: Strong Plantings Report Calls for Strong RFS

IowaRFAlogoExpected big plantings of corn and soybeans underscore the need for a strong Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). New estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show a possible record amount of soybeans expected to be planted this year and the fifth largest corn acreage to be planted as well. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) says these factors show why a strong and growing RFS is needed this year.

“The past eight years were prosperous for agriculture because the RFS was allowed to act as a sponge, soaking up additional corn and soybeans when needed,” stated IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “The vast amount of corn and soybeans expected to be planted in 2014 demonstrates the importance of a strong and growing RFS. If the EPA’s proposal to essentially gut the RFS is allowed to become final, we could see huge carryovers, crop prices plummet below the cost of production, and family farms placed in jeopardy.”

Nearly 92 million acres is expected to be dedicated to corn this year and a record 81.5 million acres for soybeans, a six percent increase from last year.

EPA’s Feeling About RFS? Depends Who’s Asking

epa-logoHow does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) feel about its proposal to cut the amount of ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply? Well, that depends on who the folks at the agency are talking to.

Speaking before the House Appropriations Committee last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seemed to backtrack on last January’s statements before biofuels advocates when she told them that her agency “heard loud and clear that we didn’t hit that right,” indicating the EPA could be changing its stance. But when grilled by Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) who represents California agriculture and oil interests, McCarthy had a different response.

“We’re going to make sure to take a reasonable approach that recognizes the infrastructure challenges and the inability at this point to achieve the levels of ethanol that are in the law,” she said.

It’s also interesting that McCarthy did not challenge part of the premise in Valadao’s original question that stated how consumers’ vehicles could not handle higher blends than being offered right now, specifically E10. Biofuels advocates have long made the claim that most vehicles can handle at least 15 percent ethanol blends (E15), and two years ago the EPA approved E15 for use in 2001 and newer vehicles.

You can hear for yourself what McCarthy said here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Before House Appropriations Committee

Sen. Thune Meets with Ethanol Supporters

ace14-dc-thune-groupA team of four biofuels supporters had the chance to meet with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) last week while in Washington DC for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March.

In an interview following that meeting, Thune talked about some of the issues facing the biofuels industry, in particular the EPA proposal to lower volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. “Trying to reverse the EPA’s decision on this is what we’ve been focused on since it came out,” said Sen. Thune.”Going down to 13.1 gallons is horrible for the industry so we hope they make some accommodation for getting beyond the blend wall.”

Thune says he expects to Congress to get a package of expired tax credit extensions passed soon, including renewable energy credits for wind, advanced biofuels, and biodiesel. “It’s very hard for people to plan to invest when they don’t know what the rules are going to be,” he said.

The senator also talked about the rail delays that have been impacting shipments of ethanol and grain. “The railroads are going to have to do a better job,” he said, noting that the problem has been caused by both the long, cold winter and increased shipping of crude oil from North Dakota. “It’s important that the railroads recognize that agricultural commodities need to be shipped too.” Interview with Senator John Thune (R-SD)

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

BIO Calls on EPA to Approve New Biofuel Pathways

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will halt new petitions for renewable fuel pathways for six months or so. In response, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) urged the agency to speed up rather than slow down the Petition Process for New Renewable Fuel Pathways under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The petition process was established in March of 2010 during the process of finalizing the rules for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“EPA’s effort to improve the petition process for new renewable fuel pathways under the RFS is welcome. But the agency should aim to complete this review process in a more timely manner,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section. “Advanced biofuel companies need a pathway to the fuel market in order to attract necessary investment to build and start up new production facilities that create new jobs. The lengthy wait for approval of new pathways chills job creation and investment in the sector.”

alamo_switchgrass_2Erickson noted that in the last four years, the EPA has completed less than half of the 62 petitions it has received for approvals for new renewable fuel pathways. In fact, he said there are 36 petitions are still waiting action with an average wait time of nearly 17 months. Companies filing cellulosic biofuel pathway petitions have faced the longest wait times, an average of 24 months. Erickson said this delay has slowed deployment of new advanced biofuel technologies.

Erickson concluded, “Combined with the proposed rule the proposed delay of the petition process may further undermine the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels just as they are set to produce millions of commercial gallons and launch a rapid scale up.”

Biofuel Organizations Call for Tax Credits Extensions

US Capitol at dusk photo Joanna SchroederLeaders from several biofuel trade organizations are calling for the extension of some federal advanced biofuel tax credits. The Advanced Ethanol Council, Advanced Biofuels Association, Algae Biomass Organization, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board, and Renewable Fuels Association have sent a letter to the Senate calling for the restoration of the Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit, the Special Depreciation Allowance for Second Generation Biofuel Plant Property, the Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Fuels Credit, and the Alternative Fuel and Alternative Fuel Mixture Excise Tax Credit.

The letter reads, in part, “The advanced biofuels industry is at a critical stage of development. Despite a difficult financial market, we are now operating commercial plants across the country and continue to make progress on dozens of additional projects in the final stages of development. Advanced biofuel tax credits have allowed the biofuels industry to make great strides in reducing the cost of production and developing first-of-kind technologies to deploy the most innovative fuel in the world.

“As leaders in a critical innovation sector in the United States, we are well aware of the financial constraints facing this country. However, the United States’ global competitors are offering tax incentives for advanced biofuels and in fact are attracting construction of new facilities – and associated high skilled jobs. If Congress wants American companies to continue developing these homegrown technologies in the United States, it must extend these credits. Biofuel producers are also competing with incumbent fossil energy industries who continue to enjoy tax incentives on a permanent basis.”

The letter marks the latest effort by biodiesel and ethanol producers and their backers to get better federal government support for their green fuels. Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency undercut the industries when it proposed drastic reductions in the amount of biodiesel and ethanol to be mixed into the Nation’s fuel supply. In addition, Washington also let these vital federal tax credits expire at the end of the year.

Stop Protecting Big Oil’s Bottom Line

A new TV advertising campaign is being launched in Washington, D.C. this Sunday by Americans United for Change calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop supporting Big Oil’s bottom line. The EPA is currently reviewing comments of their 2014 proposed rule for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The goal of the TV ad is to underscore the consequences for rural jobs and all American consumers if they ultimately give Big Oil what they want: crippling their cheaper, cleaner renewable fuels competition.

‘Bottom Line’ follows two previous Americans United TV ads in support of the RFS, “Simple Choice” and ‘Why Mess With Success?”, and its digital ad campaign ‘Big Oil Is the Real Winner’, fighting back against the oil industry’s lies.

“Big Oil needs another giveaway from Washington like our coastal environment and economies need another BP deep-water spill,” said Caren Benjamin, executive director of Americans United for Change. “The industry already enjoys absurd loopholes that allowed the biggest companies among them to pay no taxes or even negative taxes in recent years. And while the ethanol industry voluntarily gave up their tax credit at the end of 2011, Big Oil runs attack ads against lawmakers who dare to suggest they don’t need $4 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies at a time when they’re posting $100 billion in profit. And how does Big Oil pay back the taxpayers for all their generosity? By shaking them down at the pump and polluting their ground water.”

Benjamin noted that Big oil gets whatever they ask for from Washington and said they are now asking the EPA to help put out of business their 70 cent cheaper and cleaner renewable fuels competition. “It’s time to draw the line not just because gutting the RFS is another giveaway to Big Oil, but because it’d be a huge takeaway from our rural economies, our national security, environment, and innovation towards cleaner renewable fuels of tomorrow.”

With a call to action to stop messing with the RFS Benjamin concludes that it doesn’t make sense to “mess with the success of the RFS.”

An Energy Enthusiast Version of March Madness

March Madness is upon us. For those not living in the United States, it’s the two weeks where college men and women’s basketball teams battle it out on the court until the last team is standing and crowned champion. Now that the NCAA teams have been announced and the brackets determined, people are filling out their official tournament forms with hopes of also being the last one standing (this assures bragging rights for one year).

This year, the Americans United for Change has released its own version of March Madness: the 1st Annual Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Tournament. Jeremy Funk, communications director, notes that there is only one possible upset in this tournament and its a long shot and that is the renewable energy industry coming out the victor. He says “everyone knows the fix is in at this tournament if the EPA ejects the RFS and guarantees victory for 1st seed team Big Oil over the 16th seed team, The American Consumers”.

tumblr_n2n687cBjP1ts83mmo1_1280The EPA is currently reviewing more than 100,000 comments submitted in response to its 2014 proposed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – an energy policy designed to reduce the use of imported oil while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Big Oil has been working the refs in Washington for decades, complaining they need billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, even when they’ve got $100 billion in profits on the scoreboard,” added Funk. “Now the oil industry has a full court press on Washington to once again rewrite the rules in their favor by ejecting the cleaner, cheaper renewable fuels competition from the game. Without a strong Renewable Fuel Standard promoting healthy competition, Big Oil would be free to give consumers the Bobby Knight treatment at the pump.”

He says he is confident that when the EPA’s referees review this call, they’ll see the RFS has been an incredible Cinderella Story for rural communities when it comes to creating jobs, income and opportunity.

Funk concluded, “They’ll see the RFS has meant our troops have has been playing stronger D by reducing our dependence on oil from unstable regions overseas. They’d see the RFS has been a slam dunk for innovations in cleaner burning, next generation renewable fuels to combat climate change. We’re confident in the end, the EPA will reverse this terrible call and make Big Oil play fair for a change.”

New Budget Would Roll Back Oil Subsidies

2015-budgetThe recently proposed Obama administration Fiscal Year 2015 Budget includes $4 billion a year in cuts to oil industry subsidies, notes Americans United for Change (AUFC), which calls that “a big win for taxpayers and consumers.”

Under the Department of Energy section, the budget calls for elimination of “Unnecessary Fossil Fuel Subsidies” stating that as “the Nation continues to pursue clean energy technologies that will support future economic growth, it should not devote scarce resources to subsidizing the use of fossil fuels produced by some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world.” The proposed budget would repeal “over $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas, and other fossil fuel producers.”

americans-change“We are elated that the President has renewed his commitment to doing away with billions of dollars in pointless subsidies for big oil that shortchange investment in cleaner burning, cheaper renewable fuels of the future,” says AUFC executive director Caren Benjamin, adding however that the EPA proposal to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) at the same time is inconsistent. “It’s a proposal that runs totally counter to the President’s strategy to address climate change by supporting clean energy — because a weak RFS means less incentive for innovation in cleaner burning, next generation renewable fuels and guarantees a greater use of dirty fossil fuels.”

AUFC also points out that there seems to be some bipartisan consensus building in Congress against special tax treatment for the oil industry. The draft tax reform proposal circulated by Republican House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), for example, would eliminate some of the accounting tactics that allow oil companies to report lower net profits and pay less taxes.

AUFC encourages House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to follow that lead and hold a hearing on “why an industry that made $100 billion in profits last year can’t do without billions of dollars in subsidies every year courtesy of the taxpayers.”

Iowa Farmers Oppose RFS Changes

iowa-soyA vast majority of Iowa farmers in a recent poll oppose changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

agri-pulseThe Agri-Pulse Farm Opinion Poll, launched last month in partnership with the Iowa Soybean Association, found that 92% of farmers polled oppose the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to lower of the amount of corn-based ethanol and biodiesel required to be blended in the nation’s fuel as part of the RFS.

In addition, almost three out of five farmers responding (58 percent) said that, of several national issues including the Farm Bill, trade, tax codes and immigration, the RFS is most important to the future profitability of their farms.

The poll also found that farmers expect to see weaker financial returns in 2014 and will adjust their expenditures – spending less on fertilizer and equipment but more on crop insurance. The new poll was taken February 23 and included more than 130 Iowa farmers responding to 12 unaided questions.

Biodiesel Finds Allies at Commodity Classic

jobe1Commodity Classic is the annual meeting that attracts more than 7,000 corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers, but it’s also a great place to find biodiesel and ethanol producers. Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) says they make sure to connect with their allies from the commodity groups, especially those soybean growers.

“Biodiesel is made from a variety of feedstocks, but soy has always been the predominant feedstock for biodiesel and will be going forward,” he says, although corn oil from ethanol plants and animal fats have been making their mark in the green fuel as well. “The soybean leadership has really created the roots for biodiesel, and we still come to connect with our soybean farmer friends and leaders and talk about the status of biodiesel.”

And there was plenty to talk about at Commodity Classic when it comes to biodiesel. The double-whammy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposing to cut in half the amount of biodiesel to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply and the expiration of the $1-a-gallon federal biodiesel tax credit has made for plenty of conversations. Joe is really perplexed at the cut to the share of biodiesel in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) considering how biodiesel is able to make up a lot possible shortfalls from cellulosic and blend wall issues facing ethanol.

“Biodiesel filled virtually the whole advanced biofuel pool, not just the biomass-based diesel pool. And because biodiesel has been so successful, the advanced biofuel goals have been met or exceeded every single year of the [RFS, despite] other advanced biofuels not coming online as quickly as hoped,” Jobe says.

The soybean growers Jobe and his folks have been able to connect with at Commodity Classic have been big allies in the push to get the RFS levels restored, but he’s also seeing help coming from corn growers who obviously have a bigger stake in what happens to ethanol but are pushing to keep the RFS as it was intended because of how it lifts all biofuels. He’s optimistic all of their efforts will be successful. “We have to believe the EPA is going to do the right thing, because the right thing is so easy and so obvious,” said Jobe.

Listen to my interview with Joe here: Joe Jobe, CEO of NBB at Commodity Classic

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

RFS is Revitalizing Rural Iowa

The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released its Preliminary 2012 Farm Census data and according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), it’s easy to see that increased in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have revitalized rural Iowa.

Iowa-FarmThe USDA data shows that since the increase in the RFS in 2007, Iowa has experienced nearly a 51 percent increase in the value of Iowa farm products, with a more than 67.7 percent increase in crop values and a more than 33.5 percent increase in livestock values. These value increases took place during a time when the amount of land being farmed in Iowa actually dropped 132,193 acres to 30.6 million acres.

“It’s no coincidence the increases in the RFS since 2007 have coincided with the most impressive run of rural prosperity in Iowa history,” said IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “Throughout history, farmers have been so innovative and productive they usually produce themselves out of profitability. This time, the growth in renewable fuels provided new markets for increased production, resulting in the positive economic results detailed by the USDA. However, if the Obama Administration’s proposal to slash the RFS is allowed to move forward, we could see a complete reversal in this rural revitalization.”

Iowa was not the only state to benefit from the growth in renewable fuels. Nationally, farm product values increased 32.8 percent from 2007 to 2012, with crop values increasing 47.9 percent and livestock values increasing 18.7 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. land devoted to farming declined by nearly 7.5 million acres.

Cold Winter Challenges Ethanol Plant Logistics

nec14-rail-bobAt the National Ethanol Conference last week, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen had a discussion with Ed Hamberger, President and CEO, Association of American Railroads, on Regulatory Crackdown on Rail Transport. They discussed current government proposals focused on rail cars.

Hamberger kicked off the discussion by noting that ethanol has been one of the fastest growing commodity segments for the railroads growing from 40,000 rail cars of ethanol in 2000 to 330,000 in 2011- an 800 percent increase. While he said there were some challenges, new routes, new track, new employees, he said that over the years, the ethanol industry and the rail industry have become good partners for America. Rail Transportation conversation

nec14-patriot-vondraOne ethanol plant of many that is using the railroads to transport its ethanol and byproducts such as dried distillers grains (DDGs) is Patriot Renewable Fuels, located just off I-80 in Annawan, Illinois.  Using rail and trucks involves a lot of logistics and Patriot’s Rick Vondra has noted that with the cold weather over the last couple months they, along with other ethanol plants, have had challenges in moving their product, in particular rail movement.

“It’s been a tremendous challenge and we’ve had to find alternative ways to move our product,” explained Vondra. He said they are using more trucks but so are other plants and on top of the increased demand from their plant and the ethanol industry, the trucks still have other products to deliver.

So how is the weather affecting the railroad industry? Vondra said snow and ice have been a big factor because rail workers have to go and move switches that can get frozen. They have to remove ice from lines and with temperatures getting as cold as 20 below zero, workers can’t be outside long.

With the goal of increased use of E15 and other higher blends of ethanol being a recurring theme during the conference, I asked Vondra what some of his takeaways of this conversation were. He noted that Patriot is working closely with retailers, wholesalers, distributors and car dealers in their local community to educate people on the benefits of ethanol, but also to encourage more adoption and use of ethanol in the community.

Listen to my interview with Rick where he talks about cold logistic challenges as well as their work on ethanol education. Interview with Rick Vondra, Patriot Renewable Fuels

2014 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

NEC Coverage sponsored by Patriot Renewable Fuels LLC