Oily Palms

According to Americans United for Change (AUC), Iowa Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst has attracted national attention with her stance on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – that she is not supportive of subsidies. This before the news broke last week that the billionaire oil baron Koch brothers maxed out their contributions to Ernst’s campaign on top of the over $20,000 the Koch donor network has funneled to her campaign coffers. The new breaking news is that ExxonMobil PAC is toasting Ernst at a $1,000 a plate in Washington, D.C. this Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

In response, AUC, a pro biofuels and pro-RFS organization, is hitting the radio waves this week in Des Moines, Iowa calling on Ernst to choose a side: Iowa jobs, or Big Oil profits. However, AUC said Ernst seemed to side with the latter.

The group cites that when Ernst was pressed to take a firm stand on the RFS, Ernst stressed she’s “philosophically opposed” to farm subsidies and that she “want[s] people to choose products that work for them and not have them mandated by the United States government.” Not exactly the ringing endorsement for ethanol that Iowa rural communities may be hoping to hear, said AUC.

Jeremy Funk, Comm. Dir., Americans United for Change, which recently ran full page ads in Iowa urging Ernst to clarify her muddy RFS position, said, “There’s easy choices and there’s hard choices. For someone hoping to represent a state that leads the nation in renewable fuels production, you might think that unconditional support for the Renewable Fuel Standard and 73,000 Iowa jobs would be a no-brainer. But for some reason, it’s a hard choice for Joni Ernst.”

“Big Oil has taken notice of Ernst’s begrudging support for the RFS while remaining ‘philosophically opposed’ to it. What is a telling choice is for Ernst to welcome Big Oil’s support with open arms at a decadent Washington fundraiser this week,” continued Funk. “Big Oil lobbyists would love nothing more than to be able to say, “You see, even a Senator from Iowa thinks the RFS is unnecessary.” Big Oil would love to be able to use Ernst as a poster child in their multi-million smear campaign to drive ethanol out of business. They hate that consumers have a cheaper and cleaner option at the pump thanks to Iowa renewable fuels. They hate that every gallon sold of ethanol produced domestically means one less gallon sold of gas made from dirty crude oil from unstable regions like Iraq.”

Funk noted that the more money Ernst receives from Big Oil interest, the more reluctant her support for renewable fuels.” Ernst needs to get her priorities straight: choosing between Iowa’s economy and the special interests shouldn’t be a choice at all,” Funk concluded.

RFA to DOE: Update Your E85 Data!

Today the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is calling on the Department of Energy (DOE) to accurately account for all stations selling E85. According to RFA, the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center is missing a vast number of E85 stations – nearly 1,000- after comparing the list to the “crowd-sourced” website E85Prices.com that lists 3,449 retail locations offering E85.

RFANewlogo“The AFDC database is way off in its reporting of E85 stations, and this is negatively influencing discussions over the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending requirements. It isn’t just a handful of stations that are missing; we are talking about the exclusion of hundreds of stations nationwide. In fact, they missed 40 percent of the stations that are included in other databases! That’s simply unacceptable,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA.

In a letter sent to the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the RFA illustrates the central role of the database in crucial policy decisions, stating, “EPA’s mistaken belief that existing E85 refueling infrastructure is insufficient to distribute the 2014 RFS volumes specified in the statute is based in large part on information from the AFDC. As a result, the Agency wrongly proposed to reduce required renewable fuel blending volumes in 2014.”

Dinneen stressed the urgent need for updated, accurate information as the EPA decides the final 2014 RFS blending requirements. He noted, “Accurate data is the foundation of well informed decisions. The so-called ‘blend wall’ — the level at which oil companies claim they can no longer blend ethanol into gasoline — can be scaled through increased use of E85. Therefore, an accurate accounting of E85 stations distributing low-cost, renewable fuels is vital to informing the debate over RFS implementation.”

The letter concludes, “The correctness and completeness of the database has never been more important, as crucial policy and regulatory decisions are being informed by the information. Inadequate data leads to ill-informed policy decisions, which can have significant consequences for affected industries.

ACE Announces Final Ethanol Conference Agenda

The 27th annual Ethanol Conference agenda is set and will include an update on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) from the Environmental Protection Agency. The event is taking place August 4-6, 2014 in Minneapolis. In addition to the RFS update, Paul Machiele, director for fuel programs for the EPA will also be discussing other agency ethanol priorities. Registration is still available.

“As EPA and the White House close-in on a final decision about the 2014 RFS we’re pleased that Paul Machiele will be on hand to meet with our members,” said ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings.

ACElogo“Consistent with our conference theme of ‘Power by People’ we’re pleased that the 2014 conference will feature updates from ACE members and other speakers on the policy, marketing, and innovation initiatives that will help position the industry for future profitability,” Jennings added.

The ACE conference will also feature new findings from an economic study on “Eco-Performance Fuel,” an Innovators panel of four ACE-member ethanol producers who are adding new processes and technologies, a Retailer Roundtable involving gas station owners who are making money and attracting new customers by selling higher blends of ethanol fuel, and panel discussion focusing on international sales opportunities for ethanol and distillers grain.

Three breakout session tracks will be offered for ethanol plant board directors, mangers/CEOs, and operators focused on technology advances. Breakout session topics include risk management, the impact of proposed FDA regulations on plant operations, and technology to speed or increase yeast fermentation rates.

EPA Hears Corn Grower Concerns About RFS

Members of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) meeting in Washington DC were able to share their concerns about the delayed rule on 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard with EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

epa-ncga“The number needs to be out, it’s really ridiculous,” said NCGA president Martin Barbre, pictured here on the right with Perciasepe. “He said ‘we’re behind time frame’ and we had some delegates stand up and say ‘you’re not behind time frame, you’re way late.’” The final rule was expected by the end of June but EPA officials say it is being delayed because of the massive volume of comments that need to be studied in order to make a decision.

Barbre says while they appreciate the fact that EPA is taking the time to make sure they make the right decision, delaying it until almost the end of the year causes problems in the market. “Sort of what has created this issue with RINS and that run up in the RINS price is the lateness of the oil companies getting the numbers,” said Barbre. “They’re supposed to have these number in the spring, they get them in the fall, and by the end of the year they have got to have met their obligations. So it puts them in somewhat of a bind.”

“We’re not usually on the side of defending the oil companies, but in this case they just need to get the numbers faster so they can get themselves where they need to be,” Barbre added.

Listen to Barbre’s comments here: Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre

Corn Growers Keep Ethanol in Focus

Ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) were big topics this week as members of the National Corn Growers Association met in Washington DC.

ncga-ethanolMichigan farmer Jeff Sandborn, chair of the Ethanol Committee, said they spent the week talking with administration officials and members of Congress after being updated on the issues. “Right now, Congress faces rapidly evolving issues crucial to our members. The information and understanding coming out of these meetings will help each of our delegations make the strongest case possible for farmers.”

During the Ethanol Committee meeting, staff from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality provided an update on the regulatory issues facing the ethanol industry. On Thursday, the entire NCGA delegation heard from EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe about the status of the pending 2014 volume obligation rule under the RFS.

“We greatly appreciate the deputy administrator’s willingness to participate in an open, well-considered conversation,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre of Illinois. While Perciasepe mainly dealt with the proposed Waters of the United States rule, he also fielded questions from growers pertaining to both the reduction in volume, and the continued delays of final RFS rule.

Report Shows Oil Companies Block Renewable Fuels

gasoline_pumpThe biggest names in the oil industry get failing grades when it comes to offering alternative transportation fuels like ethanol, according to a new report card released today by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

A new “Consumer Choice Report Card” grades the nation’s largest retail gasoline chains based on whether they are providing consumers with alternatives to regular gasoline that cost less, reduce pollution and are higher octane for better engine performance.

RFANewlogoAccording to RFA, the “Big Five” oil companies all scored at the bottom of the list — with fewer than one percent of stations offering American made, renewable alternatives like E85 or E15 — while a number of major independent retail chains received “A+” grades, with more than 25 percent of their stations offering E85 or E15. Those five companies are Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Shell. At the head of the class are independent chains such as Break Time, Meijer, Thorntons, Kum & Go, and Kwik Trip – all of which earned a grade of A+ for their support of renewable fuels. Among oil company affiliated brands, only Speedway/SuperAmerica and Cenex received high marks (“A-“ and “B,” respectively.)

The Consumer Choice Report Card is part of a new report from the RFA titled “Protecting the Monopoly: How Big Oil Covertly Blocks the Sale of Renewable Fuels” which exposes how the five largest oil companies, along with a number of leading refiners, are “engaging in strong arm tactics and covert practices to prevent and discourage the sale of renewable fuels, especially at stations carrying their brand name.” The report finds that oil company distribution contracts “routinely include provisions that make it difficult, needlessly expensive, or simply impossible for a retailer to offer consumers choices like E15 or E85.”

RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen and RFA Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper held a media call to discuss the report and scorecard. “Cynically, oil companies frequently cite a shortage of fueling infrastructure as a reason why the EPA should lower the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Yet, as demonstrated in this analysis, the oil industry itself has deliberately created this shortage by making it as difficult and burdensome as possible for retail gas stations to offer greater volumes of renewable fuels,” said Dinneen. “We have to enforce the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

Cooper explains some of the tactics used by the big oil companies to prevent or discourage sales of renewable fuels. “Most of these contracts require supplier exclusivity meaning the retailer can only sell fuels made by supplier,” said Cooper. “So if the supplier doesn’t make E15 or E85 available at the terminal, the distributor can’t distribute it to the retailer.” Cooper says many agreements actually actively discourage retailers from promoting the availability of E85 and some have been fined for doing so.

Listen to or download the call here: RFA report on how oil companies block renewable fuels

EPA Chief Hopes RFS Rule Coming “Soon”

epa-mccarthyEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy held a conference call with media this morning in advance of her trip to Missouri this week to talk about the proposed Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS.

I had the last question on the press conference and took the liberty of going off topic to ask about when the final rule on the volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) would be released. “I’m hoping it will come out soon,” she said. Explaining about the delay in releasing the final rule, which was expected by the end of June, McCarthy said it has become clear that there is concern “not only about what the volumes of the fuels are but the way in which we are adjusting those volumes.”

McCarthy stressed that the administration “continues to have a strong commitment to biofuels” and they want to make sure the final rule “clearly reflects that interest.”

“My goal is always to make sure we get it right,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy answer the question here. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on RFS rule release

EPA Establishes Quality Assurance for RINS

epaIn addition to the final rule approving crop residue as a cellulosic feedstock, the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday established a “voluntary quality assurance program” for renewable identification numbers, or RINs.

The program is designed to maintain liquidity in the market for RINs under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) providing a means for ensuring that RINs are properly gener­ated through audits of renewable fuel production conducted by independent third-parties using quality assurance plans (QAPs). According to EPA, the QAP is intended to improve RIN market liquidity and ef­ficiency and improve the ability of smaller renewable fuel producers to sell their RINs.

Other provisions in the final rule regarding RINs include modifications to the exporter provisions of the RFS program to help ensure that an appropriate number and type of RINs are retired whenever
renewable fuel is exported.

Read the entire rule from EPA here.

Ethanol Report on Energy Independence

ethanol-report-adAs we prepare to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, many of us will be out on the roads driving to see family, friends and fireworks. But, thanks to upheaval in a little country halfway across the world, gas prices are up again so we are going to be paying more at the pump, a stark reminder that we are not so independent when it comes to our energy sources.

dinneen-capitolIn this Independence Day Ethanol Report, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen reminds us that ethanol saves Americans money at the pump, stretches the fuel supply and is the perfect remedy for skyrocketing gas prices.

Dinneen talks about the new milestone reached this week in cellulosic ethanol production and why the government needs to be expanding the use of biofuels rather than contemplating scaling back our nation’s renewable energy policy and striking a blow for American energy independence.

Ethanol Report on Energy Independence

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Corn Fiber Approved as Cellulosic Feedstock

epaThe Environmental Protection Agency issued final rules Wednesday to qualify additional fuel pathways for the production of cellulosic biofuel, including crop residue such as corn fiber.

EPA has now determined that crop residue does meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) provided that “producers include in their registration specific information about the types of residues which will be used, and record and report to EPA the quantities and specific types of residues used.”

corn-cobsThe final rule comes just as the first gallons of cellulosic ethanol are being produced this week from corn fiber in Galva, Iowa. “As demonstrated by Quad County Corn Processors—which produced its first commercial gallon of cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber just yesterday—this feedstock holds tremendous potential to contribute meaningful volumes toward compliance with the RFS cellulosic biofuels standard,” said Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen.

Dinneen says EPA should be commended for using a straightforward approach to accounting for the cellulosic content of biofuel feedstocks. “The ‘cellulosic content threshold’ method finalized in today’s rule is a common sense approach that minimizes administrative and accounting burdens for commercial producers, but upholds the spirit and intent of the RFS,” Dinneen said.

The EPA also finalized some minor amendments related to survey requirements associated with the ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) program and misfueling mitigation regulations for 15 volume percent
ethanol blends (E15) in announcements made on Wednesday.

Ethanol Report on Advanced Ethanol Concerns

ethanol-report-adAdvanced Ethanol Council (AEC) executive director Brooke Coleman commented last week on a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the impacts of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) so we got him on the phone for this edition of “The Ethanol Report.”

colemanIn this interview, Coleman talks about his take on the CBO report, as well as Phantom Fuels legislation in Congress, and the delay on EPA issuing a final rule for 2014 volume obligations under the RFS.

You may recall that EPA officials said earlier this year that they expected to have a final rule by the end of spring, or at least the end of June, but that has not happened yet and Coleman explains they now have until the end of September. “They were saying the end of June because they had to get it done by July 1st because they had extended the RFS compliance year through June,” he said. “They then extended it again through September.

Ethanol Report with Brooke Coleman, Advanced Ethanol Council

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Iowa Congressman Visits Biodiesel Producers

braleyCongressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) visited the REG biodiesel plant in Mason City, Iowa on Friday to meet with members of the state’s biodiesel industry concerned about the proposed lowering of volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The current RFS proposal would set biodiesel volumes at 1.28 billion gallons, a sharp cut from last year’s actual production of nearly 1.8 billion gallons. “We’re grateful to Rep. Braley for his support on renewable fuels, and we’re asking for his help specifically in increasing the proposed biodiesel volume to at least 1.7 billion gallons,” said Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board.

braley-biodiesel2A recent national survey of producers conducted by the National Biodiesel Board found that more than half have idled a plant this year and 78 percent have reduced production from last year. Nearly two-thirds have already laid off employees or anticipate doing so. “Iowa is the leading biodiesel state, which generates jobs and economic advancement,” Kimberly said. “The future of these promising businesses is threatened.”

Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin promised that he will “continue to reach out with strong voice and talk about importance of biofuels for Iowa and nation.”

Industry Highlights Flaws in CBO Report

In an update to a story posted last week regarding the new CBO report, “Renewable Fuel Standard: Issues for 2014 and Beyond,” more renewable energy industry representatives are speaking out regarding what they say are flaws in the report.

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy said of the report, “This report looks at unrealistic scenarios and completely ignores the very goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which are to decrease our nation’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and spur economic growth and investment, and improve our environment, all while offering consumers a choice and savings at the pump. The CBO report simply shrugs off these critical policy goals contained in the RFS by noting that, ‘CBO did not account for that effect in this analysis.’

CBO 2014 RFS reportBuis also pointed out the ethanol is currently trading a dollar less than gasoline on the Chicago Board of Trade, which the CBO fails to acknowledge. The report also fails to consider, said Buis, the 40 year history of volatile gas prices and also ignores the effect the current turmoil in Iraq. However, Buis points out, increased domestic fuel production of fuels such as ethanol and a decrease on dependence of foreign oil would help provide stability and reduce the price hikes in gas prices at the pump.

“Clearly, this report is agenda driven and ignores the facts. Wild and statically unrealistic conclusions such as these show just how flawed the majority of this report is, and why it should not be taken with any level of seriousness,” added Buis. “It seems to me that the CBO got only one thing right in this assessment, and that is with regards to the production of ethanol from corn and how it has virtually no impact on the price of food. Yet, again it is flawed as it fails to highlight that the true driver of food costs is the price of oil.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) was also unhappy with the report and said that CBO’s claim that repealing the RFS would reduce gasoline prices is “simply false”. “The RFS has reduced consumer demand for oil, and the study fails to take that into account. It is unfortunate that CBO, which is supposed to be objective, released such a flawed study that does not take into account the reality of fuel markets,” said NFU Senior Vice President of Programs Chandler Goule.

“Study after study show that the RFS is saving consumers money. E85prices.com recently released data showing that consumers filling up with E85 can save an average of $0.61 less per gallon,” Goule continued. “The RFS is a successful policy tool that decreases our nation’s reliance on foreign oil, creates economic opportunities in rural America, and effectively decreases the greenhouse gas footprint of the transportation sector. CBO should have taken all of these benefits to consumers into consideration when performing the study.”

DF Cast: Finding Ways to Increase Ethanol Blends

While the ethanol industry awaits the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on the amount of ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, ethanol producers are looking at other ways to make sure the green fuel increases its blend amounts.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we hear from Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, Dean Drake with the consulting company the Defour Group, Scott Zaremba, president of Zarco Incorporated, and Ken Parrent, the ethanol director for the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, as they give their thoughts on how consumer demand will be a bigger driver for higher ethanol blends after attending an Indiana Corn Growers Association ethanol forum that focused on marketing mid-level ethanol blends and ran following the recent 2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Indianapolis.

Domestic Fuel Cast - Increasing Ethanol Blends

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Lawmakers Ask Obama to Boost Biodiesel

epa-logoAs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to release its decision on the amount of biodiesel and ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply (and we’re hearing word now that decision might be delayed until the Fall), a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is making its appeal to the White House to allow biodiesel to keep growing. This news release from the National Biodiesel Board cites the letter from 52 lawmakers who are concerned about the EPA’s current proposal to reduce the amount of biodiesel to be required for obligated parties under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

“During your time in office you have supported the development and growth of the biodiesel industry. Now, biodiesel producers around the nation have the ability to generate nearly two billion gallons a year of the only EPA-approved advanced biofuel, which is commercially available across the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Obama. “Therefore, we believe now is not the time for a critical shift in biodiesel policy. We urgently ask that you raise biodiesel’s RVO for 2014 above 1.28 billion gallons.”

The letter, which was led by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., can be found here. The lawmakers signing the letter represent 22 states.

In a draft RFS rule released in November, the EPA proposed holding biodiesel volumes at 1.28 billion gallons – a sharp drop from last year’s actual production of nearly 1.8 billion gallons. Biodiesel producers around the country have warned that such a proposal will cause severe contraction in the industry. A nationwide survey of producers conducted by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) in April found that more than half have already idled a plant this year and 78 percent have reduced production from last year. Nearly two-thirds – 66 percent – have already laid off employees or anticipate doing so.

NBB officials have previously expressed their shock and disappointment on the proposal because of the success biodiesel has already shown in exceeding the targeted amounts of renewable fuels. They call on the Obama Administration “to finalize a strong RFS volume as quickly as possible.”