OPINION American farmers have a strong history of innovation. Whether that be the seeds we plant or the tractors we drive, we are always looking for ways to do better and increase market opportunities for our products.
Home-grown renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel are far and away our biggest success story. The Renewable Fuel Standard has reduced our dependence on foreign oil, reduced fuel prices at the pump, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, and added value by increasing demand for the corn and soybeans our farmers produce.
Recently President Donald Trump took a significant step forward for renewable fuels, instructing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the outdated barrier that required retailers in many areas of the country to stop selling 15 percent ethanol blends, or E15, during the summer months.
But the benefits of E15, unfortunately, don’t extend to biodiesel. The E15 development was welcome news for corn farmers who have been long-time advocates of increased-ethanol blends. But recent actions by the EPA threaten to curtail benefits to the farmer.
Since early 2018 the EPA has granted 53 Renewable Fuel Standard waivers to big oil companies, undermining the Renewable Fuel Standard and reducing corn and soybean demand. The EPA has an additional 38 waiver petitions pending.
Those retroactive waivers, which apply to 2016 and 2017 Renewable Fuel Standard obligations, have totaled 2.61 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons of renewable fuel. The waivers have resulted in an estimated $2 billion in economic harm each year to the U.S. biodiesel industry alone. If the EPA continues to hand out waivers, the damage for biodiesel could reach $7.7 billion.
Those exemptions reduce demand for renewable fuels. They lessen the value and demand for our soybean and corn crops. For biodiesel the waivers, combined with the zero-growth proposed for annual Renewable Fuel Standard volumes, take the industry backward. For ethanol those waivers limit growth of increased-ethanol blends and undo the positives provided by year-round E15. The USDA’s most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projects a 155-million-bushel decline in corn going to ethanol production in the 2018-2019 marketing year. Domestic ethanol consumption in 2018 reversed 20 years of growth with a first-ever decline.
The EPA practice clearly runs counter to Trump’s much-touted support for America’s farmers and renewable fuels from the farm. Appearing in June at a Council Bluffs, Iowa, ethanol plant, the president harkened back to his campaign promise to support agriculture.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged to support our ethanol industry and to fight for the American farmer like no president has ever fought before,” Trump told the crowd.
But as Iowa corn and soybean farmer Kevin Ross told the president, “The EPA’s oil-refinery waivers threaten to undo your good works.”
Disruptions in the renewable-fuels market could not come at a worse time for agriculture. This spring’s wet weather meant planting was significantly behind schedule, if we could even work in fields at all. Uncertainty surrounding trade disputes and tariffs has threatened long-standing relationships and new market opportunities for our products.
Trump has the opportunity to follow through on his promise to farmers by instructing the EPA to ensure it does not undermine the Renewable Fuel Standard and the many benefits of renewable fuels. That is especially important now as the EPA evaluates pending waivers and begins a rulemaking process to reset Renewable Fuel Standard requirements.
America’s farmers are the most innovative in the world and, if given the opportunity, can be a major contributor to our nation’s energy independence. Mr. President, you support us and we want to support you. Please uphold your commitment to America’s farmers and the Renewable Fuel Standard.