USDA reaches out on biofuel infrastructure plan

Comment period open on how government can encourage expansion of higher biofuel blends.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

January 16, 2020

3 Min Read
E15 ethanol gas pump_RoyalFarms-ProtecFuel 014.jpg
HIGHER ETHANOL BLENDS ENCOURAGED: New bills introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., encourage availability and accessibility of higher biofuel blends.Photo courtesy of Growth Energy

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a request for information on biofuel infrastructure priorities, seeking feedback from stakeholders on a key element of President Donald Trump’s promise to expand markets for higher ethanol blends like E15 and the agency’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program.

“Feedback from farmers, retailers and biofuels producers is critical to the success of this future program,” Agriculture Secretary Perdue said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA remains committed to fulfilling a key promise to American farmers to enhance the promotion of biofuels.”

In its notice, the agency said it is exploring options to expand domestic ethanol and biodiesel availability and is seeking information on opportunities to consider infrastructure projects to facilitate increased sales of higher biofuel blends (E15/B20 or higher). This effort will build on biofuel infrastructure investments and experience gained through the Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP). USDA administered BIP from 2016 to 2019 through state and private partners to expand the availability of E15 and E85 infrastructure to make higher ethanol blends available at retail gas stations around the country.

“We appreciate the USDA’s outreach, and we look forward to sharing our insights on efforts to expand the availability of cleaner, lower-cost fuel options,” Growth Energy chief executive officer Emily Skor said. “Restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard and breaking down market barriers to higher ethanol blends are pillars of the President’s commitment to farm families and rural workers, and positive results are well overdue. Smart infrastructure investments will support rural jobs and allow more drivers across the nation to take advantage of the Administration’s move to unleash sales of E15 year-round.” 

Related:Biofuels deal promises minimum 15b RFS mandate

Working hand in hand with Prime the Pump, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping build the infrastructure and distribution for higher biofuel blends, Growth Energy has doubled the number of E15 stations five years in a row to now include more than 2,000 stations across 30 states.

The USDA notice encourages stakeholders to offer insight into the following questions: What type of assistance/incentive would encourage the increased sales/ use of fuel ethanol and/or biodiesel in a way that is most cost effective to the government? Should a potential biofuel infrastructure program incentivize the lowest cost per incremental gallon of ethanol or biodiesel use/sales at the retail/fueling station level or terminal/ depot/wholesale level or both levels? What types of equipment and infrastructure should be eligible under the program?

Related:EPA proposes E15 rule, RIN reforms

It also asks if program funding provided to participants should include: (a) direct cost sharing toward the purchase of equipment, retrofitting and enhancements, (b) higher-blend biofuel sales or marketing incentives, (c) both or (d) other. Should the program include minimum standards for equipment, such as equipment certified to dispense biofuel blends containing 25% ethanol (certified for use with E15) and/ or B20-compatable or higher biofuel blend dispensers?

USDA additionally asked what steps a potential biofuel program should take to ensure equitable program participation by small to midsized station owners, i.e., owners of 10-20 or fewer sites/stations. USDA said it is especially interested to hear from small to midsized station owners on this question, according to the notice.

USDA also asked to what extent infrastructure investments made today should be required to accommodate fuels anticipated to be in the marketplace of tomorrow.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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