Biofuels and Ag Groups Protest Anti-RFS Bill

mess-rfs U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today introduced legislation that would abolish the corn ethanol mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as a co-sponsor. The move was immediately criticized by both ethanol and agricultural organizations.

“Senators Feinstein and Toomey continue to operate under the misguided assumption that the RFS is driving food prices higher” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen. “It is not. Corn is less expensive today than when the RFS was passed! As the World Bank recently concluded, ‘most of the contribution to food price changes from 1997-2004 and 2005-2012 comes from the price of oil.’”

“Just like their previous failed attempt, this legislation is incredibly shortsighted,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Nearly identical legislation has been introduced in the past and has always failed to gain any traction since a majority of senators understand the importance of homegrown, American renewable fuels. This bill would eviscerate the RFS – the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson says the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act would “cripple rural America’s economy and be an enormous step backwards for America’s goal of energy independence by a decade or more.”

National Corn Growers Association
board member Keith Alverson of South Dakota added that Congress should not turn its back on success with renewable fuels. “The Renewable Fuel Standard is working,” said Alverson. “With a second consecutive record crop, there is more than enough corn to meet all demands for food, fuel, feed, and fiber. Corn farmers have more than met our commitment on the RFS. There are many good reasons to continue this policy, and we look forward to working with Congress to support it.”

Where RFA and EPA Disagree

nec15-dinneen-grundlerEPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality Chris Grundler was sincere and apologetic during his appearance at the National Ethanol Conference last week, but he admits to having areas of disagreement with Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen.

“E15 will never realize its full potential until there is parity with regard to EPA volatility regulations for E10 and E15,” said Dinneen in his State of the Industry speech at the 20th annual ethanol conference. “To date, the Agency has rejected our efforts to secure parity, thereby ensuring that E15 is at best a seasonal fuel, a huge disincentive for marketers to adopt E15 at their stations.”

Asked about this issue by DomesticFuel, Grundler said, “That’s one of the areas that Bob and I have vigorous debates on, because I’m questioning how big a factor that is in terms of the slow uptake in E15.”

Grundler said parity is not an issue in regions where reformulated gasoline is required. “That accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of our fuel supply …. including places like Chicago,” he said, adding that governors have the ability to petition EPA to remove this one pound RVP waiver for their states but they “have received no such petitions.”

I also asked Grundler what he thought about Dinneen’s criticism of the EPA in his speech. “I didn’t think it was too harsh (but) I didn’t agree with everything he had to say,” said Grundler, adding that he thinks all stakeholders in this issue seem to overestimate EPA’s authority. “That’s where (Bob) and I differ. He thinks we can do some things that I don’t think we can,” he said.

Listen to Grundler’s answers to my questions here: EPA's Chris Grundler press questions

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Panel Explores Progress of RFS and LCFS

nec15-panel1A diverse group of stakeholders gave a diverse set of opinions on the progress to date of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper moderated the panel which featured (L to R) Jeremy Martin with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Chris Highsmith of Eco-Energy, Derek Regal of oil refiner Tesoro, Pacific Ethanol president Neil Koehler, and Michael Rensing with the British Colombia Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Cooper called the RFS “a remarkable success to date…by any metric that you choose” and said despite efforts by California to eliminate corn ethanol “the LCFS has succeeded so far because of grain-based ethanol” but they still have concerns about the program going forward.

Listen to the panelists viewpoints here: NEC 15 Panel on RFS and LCFS

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

EPA Official Apologizes to Ethanol Industry

nec15-grundlerLast year at the National Ethanol Conference, EPA’s Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality told the ethanol industry that the agency intended to finalize the volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by the end of spring 2014.

As everyone knows, that never happened and today EPA’s Chris Grundler began his remarks to the ethanol conference with an apology. “I wanted to come to Texas and personally tell you all how sorry I am that we did not get our work done,” he said. “We did not finalize a standard in 2014 that I promised we would when I appeared before all of you in Orlando.”

Gundler offered no excuses but pledged to get the RFS back on track with a three year standard for 2014, 2015 and 2016 that they hope to have done by the end of this spring. “Obviously implementing the RFS has been very challenging for us,” he said, noting that finalizing annual rules has been a “tall order.”

Listen to all of Grundler’s remarks here: EPA's Chris Grundler at NEC 15

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Senators Urge EPA to Approve Biodiesel Volumes

A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to quickly approve strong biodiesel volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

nbb-advancedThe group of 32 senators, led by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter Monday to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy noting that the agency’s delay in issuing Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOSs) for 2014 and now 2015 have created “tremendous uncertainty and hardship for the U.S. biodiesel industry and its thousands of employees.”

“Plants have reduced production and some have been forced to shut down, resulting in layoffs and lost economic productivity,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to get biodiesel back on schedule under the statutorily prescribed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) process and quickly issue volumes for 2014 at the actual 2014 production numbers. We also hope you move forward on the 2015 and 2016 biodiesel volumes in a timely manner.”

The senators’ letter also said EPA should take into account the anticipated increase in Argentinian imports in setting biodiesel volumes to prevent the displacement of domestic production. “Two weeks ago I called on the agency to stop prioritizing the imports of foreign competitors over our workers here at home, and to recommit itself fully to supporting American energy by providing certainty to the American workers who contribute to our national goal of energy independence,” said Sen. Heitkamp in a news release.

Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board, praised the senators’ action and hopes EPA’s McCarthy will respond quickly. “There is absolutely no reason for continued delays in the biodiesel volumes in the RFS,” said Steckel. “This could be done tomorrow.”

Anti-RFS Bill Re-Introduced

Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR) and Peter Welch (D-VT), today re-introduced legislation called the RFS Reform Act “to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to help ease concerns created by the ethanol mandate and protect consumers, livestock producers, food manufacturers, retailers, and the U.S. economy.”

Livestock and poultry producer organizations are among those supporting the bill, but general farm groups and corn growers say the RFS is working fine just the way it is.

mess-rfs“The elimination of the corn-based ethanol mandate and blend cap will gut the nation’s biofuel production, strand existing investment in second generation biofuel production and hurt family farmers, ranchers and rural communities that have experienced much-needed reinvestment from this policy,” said National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson. “This is not only a bad step for agriculture, but also is a major setback to the environment and our nation’s attempts to manage its carbon emissions.”

National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling notes that “the price of corn today is lower than the cost of production, and less than when the RFS was passed” and that “repealing the RFS would increase the cost of farm programs, hurt rural communities, and make America more dependent on foreign oil.”

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen called the legislation a “reckless paean to Big Oil” and said it was “a slap in the face to corn farmers across the country who responded to the RFS with increased production and yields.”

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis
says the bill is also a gift to Big Food “in their effort to extend their record profitability by blaming ethanol for food price increases” even as corn prices have been declining. “This has provided an economic boon to the integrated U.S. livestock and chain restaurant industries that tout their profitability to their stakeholders while consumer food prices, led by the meat sector, continue to escalate,” said Buis.

According to the sponsors, the RFS Reform Act “eliminates the corn-based ethanol requirement, caps the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 10 percent, and requires the EPA to set cellulosic biofuels levels at production levels.” There are currently 34 co-sponsors for the bill.

EPA Response on RFS and CARBIO Plan

EPA_LOGOI just received the following response information from the EPA attributed to Byron Bunker, Director, Compliance Division, Office of Transportation and Air Quality. The EPA representative I spoke with says the agency knows of the biodiesel industry concerns and wanted to provide a response to those concerns. The response is in the form of eight bullet points:

1. EPA is committed to getting the RFS program back on track.

We understand industry’s desire for certainty. EPA is committed to getting the RFS program back on track. We expect to take action on 2014, 2015 and 2016 this spring. We look forward to talking with all stakeholders throughout the process.

2. The CARBIO plan DOES NOT lower the RFS sustainability standards for Argentinian biodiesel producers.

Any claim that the CARBIO plan decreases environmental oversight is flatly wrong. The sustainability standards are exactly the same for all parties. This Alternate Biomass Tracking plan is simply one mechanism by which Argentinian producers can meet the record keeping requirements of the program.

The sustainability standards were defined in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Namely, in order to qualify for the RFS program, planted crop and crop residue used as feedstock for biofuels must be harvested from agricultural land cleared or cultivated prior to December 2007 (the date of EISA’s enactment).

The RFS regulations Congress established in 2007 apply to both foreign and domestic producers. Any foreign or domestic renewable fuel producer or renewable identification number (RIN) generating importer may meet the recordkeeping requirements for tracking feedstock from qualified lands with an alternative biomass tracking program that has been approved by the EPA. In fact, several countries already import biofuel under the existing regulations.

3. The CARBIO program actually provides for more rigorous oversight of Argentinian producers who choose to participate in this program.

For example:

· The plan is intended to ensure that qualifying fuel can be traced to pre-identified and pre-approved lands from which “renewable biomass” may be harvested consistent with regulatory definition of that term. The alternate biomass tracking program is a robust program that covers the whole soybean biodiesel supply chain, from soybean production through intermediate processing, to biodiesel production.

· CARBIO’s method for tracking chain of custody relies on a product transfer document called a cartas de porte, or waybill that has been mandatory in Argentina since 1998. In addition CARBIO will use land cover data from satellite imagery to identify land that was cleared or cultivated prior December 19, 2007 and actively managed or fallow and non forested on December 19, 2007.

· Any volumes that would qualify under this plan would need to have all steps verified by the approved third-party auditor before a RIN can be generated.

· Any and all other necessary RFS regulatory requirements also apply per the regulations.

4. Why would Argentine producers appeal to EPA for more stringent requirements?

It’s like someone asking a professional tax preparer to do your taxes. They know the codes, the regulation and how to manage the documentation. People want certainty and protection that they are complying with the extensive laws, which most common people don’t know or understand, and so they want the protection of the professional tax preparer. This is no different for the parties in Argentina.
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Biodiesel Plants Closing Due to RFS Uncertainty

nbb-advancedThe National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately establish biodiesel volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard to avoid further damage to the industry.

In a telephone press conference Friday morning, NBB officials highlighted fallout from the ongoing failure of EPA to establish functioning renewable fuels policy for the second consecutive year and said the recent decision to allow streamlined imports of biodiesel from Argentina under the RFS has only added new urgency to the need for stable policy.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, a former biodiesel producer and NBB Governing Board Member Ben Wootton challenged recent comments suggesting that the RFS delays haven’t hurt renewable fuels industries. Wootton lost his Pennsylvania biodiesel plant, Keystone Biofuels, in bankruptcy last year as a result of RFS uncertainty. In his letter, he explained to McCarthy how the loss of his plant also forced him to lay off 30 employees and caused him to lose his daughters’ college funds and his retirement savings.

“I would invite Administrator McCarthy to come to my shuttered plant and talk to some of the laid off workers, or to visit practically any biodiesel plant across the country to see the damage that is taking place,” Wootton said. “It is obvious that this administration doesn’t understand the severe damage that the uncertainty surrounding this rule has caused our industry and the thousands of employees it represents. It is beyond frustrating that an Administration I have strongly supported has inflicted so much harm on an industry it says it supports.”

NBB CEO Joe Jobe says the EPA decision regarding imports of Argentinian biodiesel has just exacerbated the difficulties facing the industry. “It is shocking that at a time when our renewable fuels policy is in a shambles, the EPA has essentially greenlighted biodiesel imports from Argentina to qualify for the RFS, with very little oversight or verification that the resources used to make the fuel will be grown under the normal RFS sustainability requirements,” said Jobe. “We have done everything we can for two years to help this Administration develop reasonable policy that matches President Obama’s stated support for renewable fuels, but we are at wit’s end. We are desperately searching for any indication that this support actually exists.”

Listen to the press conference, which also includes comments from NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel, here: National Biodiesel press conference on RFS uncertainty

Biodiesel Conference Honors Franken for Impact

nbc-15-frankenA long-time advocate for biodiesel was honored during the recent National Biodiesel Conference & Expo. Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota was honored with the the 2015 “Eye on Biodiesel” Impact award for his work for biodiesel in Washington, taking a particular leadership role last year in challenging the EPA’s initial proposal that would have weakened Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volumes.

Sen. Franken has helped organize his Senate colleagues in holding meetings on the issue with senior Administration leaders. He has coordinated advocacy letters from members of Congress. And he has spoken out publicly to highlight biodiesel’s benefits in Minnesota and across the country as he fought for a strong RFS. Additionally, Sen. Franken has been a consistent and vocal advocate for the biodiesel tax incentive. His advocacy and leadership have been instrumental in helping to develop a policy environment in which biodiesel can continue to grow.

In recorded remarks played for the crowd gathered at the conference, Franken thanked the group for the honor and reiterated his opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposal to cut biodiesel requirement under the RFS to 1.3 billion gallons annually.

“Our annual biodiesel production meets and even exceeds the expectations set in the [RFS]. Last year, you produced 1.8 billion gallons – each one of those gallons is helping improve our energy security and creating good jobs here at home,” said Franken, pointing out that he’s talked with anyone who would listen in the administration, including President Obama, telling them all how opposed he was to the proposal. “We need a strong RFS, not a weak one.”

Franken vows to keep fighting for the biodiesel industry, also working to reinstate the federal biodiesel tax credit.

“It doesn’t make sense for taxpayers to spend billions of dollars each year subsidizing Big Oil, while letting investments in clean, homegrown energy, like biodiesel, lapse.”

Listen to Franken’s remarks here: Sen. Al Franken speaks to biodiesel conference by video

2015 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

First RFS Education Ad in Des Moines

AmRenewFuture adAfter kicking off the new America’s Renewable Future campaign on Thursday last week, the first ads starting appearing in the Des Moines Register on Friday as potential Republican presidential candidates began to gather for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

“We want to send an unmistakable message to both parties about the remarkable, bipartisan success story of the Renewable Fuel Standard in creating jobs and making America more energy independent,” said Eric Branstad, Executive Director for America’s Renewable Future. “Iowa’s renewable fuel production has more than doubled under the RFS, and now supports more jobs and families than ever before. Candidates who support the RFS has always done well in Iowa, but it will be an even bigger issue in 2015 and 2016.”

The Des Moines Register ad noted the RFS supports 73,000 Iowa jobs, more than 50 ethanol biodiesel refineries across Iowa and has helped put foreign oil imports at a 20-year low. It’s call to action is a pretty straightforward message to candidates and caucus goers alike: “Don’t put Iowa out of business. Support the Renewable Fuel Stand… Take a stand.”

RFS a No-Show at Freedom Summit

freedom-summitJust days after Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad kicked off a campaign to promote the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a “candidate” in the 2016 presidential race, it was basically a no-show at the conservative Freedom Summit featuring many presidential hopefuls.

Asked about the RFS in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue his opposition to the law as “a matter of principle.”

One of the potential candidates who received some positive reviews at the summit was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was recently criticized by biofuels producers in his state for not joining the ranks of other Midwestern governors in support of the RFS. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, Walker says “he’s keeping a campaign pledge to not take a position in the debate that has pitted ethanol producers against Wisconsin’s small-engine industry, which opposes increased use of the fuel additive.”

Also attending the summit was former Texas governor Rick Perry, a long time opponent of the RFS who advocated a waiver of the law when he was governor.

Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush both skipped out on the summit which was organized by Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King. Speaking to members of the media on Saturday, Gov. Branstad said Iowa is still an important state for a presidential candidate. “This is one of the battleground states that’s going to, I think, determine who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” said Branstad. “I don’t think it’s wise to skip Iowa.” The governor also advised, “I think it would be a disadvantage in Iowa to not support the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Branstad said.

One friend of biofuels who can be counted among the potential candidates who attended the Freedom Summit is Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania and candidate in the 2012 Republican primary. Santorum will be making a few other appearances in Iowa this week, including at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association conference on Tuesday. He spoke at that same event in 2011.

Corn Growers: Not the Time to Cut RFS

ncga-logo-newTwo record corn crops and low prices for the grain – that’s not the time the U.S. should be cutting the amount of ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply. That’s the message coming from the National Corn Growers Association, as the group laments the fact that altering the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) couldn’t come at a worse time.

“Corn ending stocks – the amount above and beyond current demand – are estimated at nearly 2 billion bushels this year, thanks to two back-to-back record harvests,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling, a corn farmer in Maryland. “And with corn selling at low prices, any legislative attempt to cut one of our key markets will drive prices even further below cost of production. We have a policy that works well not just for the environment and energy security – but for the rural economy. We need to support farmers, not bankrupt them.”

NCGA also shot back at an attempt in the U.S. Senate to attach an anti-ethanol amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation, pointing out the many benefits ethanol brings and why it’s an important part of the fuel supply.

“Corn ethanol is better for the environment than fossil fuels and has historically lowered the cost of filling our tanks by nearly a dollar,” said NCGA Director of Public Policy Beth Elliott. “It has been proven that ethanol does not have an impact on the price of food. The Renewable Fuel Standard is working – creating clean, renewable, American-grown energy and good American jobs.”

NCGA says it wants to work with the new Congress to support the RFS.

Iowa Coalition to Promote RFS as Candidate

americas-futureIowa Governor Terry Branstad today announced a major new bi-partisan campaign called America’s Renewable Future that will promote the Renewable Fuel Standard in the 2016 Iowa Presidential caucuses.

“I’m very passionate about the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Governor Branstad during a conference call to announce the effort. “It’s made a real difference for farm income and good jobs, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, improving the environment – so I’m really excited to see this strong, bi-partisan effort being made to educate people that come to Iowa and presidential candidates.”

America’s Renewable Future will be co-chaired by former Iowa State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican, and former state Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, a Democrat, as well as Iowa renewable fuels industry leader Bill Couser.

Sweeney, who is a corn, soybean and cattle producer, says it’s important to educate lawmakers and the public about the RFS. “Once it’s explained, (they see) what a great thing renewable fuels are for this country,” she said.

Coordinating the effort will be Governor Branstad’s son Eric, a public affairs specialist and campaign operative. “We have partners coming in from all over the country and those partners have committed millions to fund this effort,” said Eric Branstad. “We are designing it to look like a presidential campaign and the RFS is our candidate.”

From now until the Iowa Caucuses, America’s Renewable Future “will wage a mulitimillion dollar, multi-platform effort” to educate presidential candidates about the benefits of the RFS and ask them to take a stand.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to be part of this grassroots organization and being able to bring these candidates to our farms and our feedlots,” said Couser, who is a livestock and crop producer and ethanol plant co-founder. “We’re very excited about meeting these candidates on a bi-partisan partnership, bringing them here and educating them.”

The group also intends to build a statewide campaign organization to educate Iowa caucus-goers in both parties about which candidates support the RFS. The campaign will include advertising, earned media, public opinion research, stakeholder engagement, digital and social media outreach.

Listen to the conference call announcing the effort here: America's Renewable Future campaign announced

NBB Chairman’s Report

Steven LevySteven Levy, Chair for the National Biodiesel Board took the stage this morning to provide an inspiring message to members who have been facing some serious odds in the last couple years. But he told everyone about how important it is to keep trying in order to obtain success using a quote from Thomas Edison.

Across the biodiesel industry, we’re not just trying to accomplish something – we are delivering. Part of the impetus for our success is the strength of our combined expertise and collaboration.

Ultimately, Edison didn’t succeed alone. He pioneered the concept of a collaborative lab, drawing on the knowledge and talent of a diverse group of creative scientists and engineers.

Likewise, NBB taps the technical expertise and business acumen of our members – and merges that powerful talent base with the specialized skills and knowledge of our leaders, our staff, and our consulting experts.

Working together, we are far more effective, far more formidable, and far more unstoppable in our mission.

You can listen to Steven’s remarks here: NBB Chair Steven Levy Remarks

2015 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

Legislative Discussion from NBB

NBB Legislative UpdateSince we’ve had politics dominating the discussion since last night why not have a little bit more?

National Biodiesel Conference attendees got a very good legislative update this morning from Anne Steckel, NBB, Vice President of Federal Affairs. Her session included a question and answer session with Byron Dorgan, a senior policy advisor, author, professor, and former Senator from North Dakota and Kenny Hulshof, Vice Chair for Public Policy at Polsinelli, and is a former Congressman from Missouri.

Anne told us that like last year, the two big battles will be for a strong RFS rule and for reinstatement of a longer-term tax incentive. She then shared the NBB plan for how to work on accomplishing victory this year.

When it came time for Q&A one of the best quotes of the day came from Byron Dorgan. Anne asked him how it’s possible that we’re in 2015 and still don’t have numbers for 2014. His answer was “Because there’s no maximum level of embarrassment.” (in Washington, DC). I think you’ll enjoy the exchange with these two panel members.

You can listen to Anne’s remarks and the discussion with Dorgan and Hulshof here: NBB Legislative Forum

2015 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album