Bill offers infrastructure boost to encourage higher biofuel blends and infrastructure investment.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

April 29, 2020

4 Min Read
Vilsack warns Administration continues to ignore biofuels

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack detailed how the ethanol and biofuel industry has been greatly affected at a time when it was already weakened. He continued to call for fair treatment from the White House for biofuels with accommodations similar to those offered to the oil industry and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up with creative approaches to support the vital component of rural America.

During a press call Wednesday afternoon hosted by Focus on Rural America, Vilsack said the biofuel industry hasn’t been invited to the White House like the airline or oil industries have to discuss ways to help cover their losses. A number of conservative lawmakers are saying now is the time for the Administration to turn its back totally and completely on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Vilsack noted that when he was agriculture secretary, the cotton industry faced similar challenges, and USDA looked for creative ways to use the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) to support cotton growers and cotton gins. Vilsack said by offering expanded authority to the CCC, USDA could take a similar approach to providing help and assistance.

“This would send a strong signal to farmers that the Renewable Fuels Standard is still valued and needed and necessary and essential to the future of agriculture and rural economies,” Vilsack said.

Related:Lower oil demand hits ethanol hard

According to Energy Information Administration data released April 29 and analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Assn., ethanol production scaled back by 4.6%, or 26,000 barrels per day (b/d), to 537,000 b/d — the lowest level since the agency began reporting ethanol production statistics in 2010. Production was 48% below the same week in 2019. The four-week average ethanol production rate dropped 11.5% to 585,000 b/d, equivalent to an annualized rate of 8.97 billion gal.

Given recent uncertainties in the renewable fuel industry, it is more important than ever to fund infrastructure improvements and remove market barriers to accessing clean and renewable fuels. Bipartisan legislation introduced this week, co-sponsored by Reps. Abby Finkenauer (D., Iowa), Angie Craig (D., Minn.), Don Bacon (R., Neb.) and Roger Marshall (R., Kan.), would provide funding for installing and converting fuel pump infrastructure to deliver higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

Finkenauer, who was also on the call, said the biofuel industry desperately needs help and attention due to decisions of the Trump Administration. “I cannot stress enough how disappointed I was to see biofuels left out of aid from USDA,” she said.

Related:Time to get creative with USDA aid

The Clean Fuels Deployment Act of 2020 authorizes $600 million over six years to help retailers offer higher ethanol blends, expand the geographic area selling ethanol blends, support biodiesel, bioheat and sustainable aviation fuel markets and accelerate the deployment of fueling infrastructure.

In addition to supporting the distribution of higher ethanol and biodiesel blends at fueling stations, the program could also be used to enhance pipelines and terminals to blend and carry ethanol and biodiesel. Funding from the clean fuel grant program could be used to incentivize the deployment of ethanol and biodiesel fueling infrastructure and convert existing infrastructure to deliver ethanol blends greater than 10% and biodiesel blends greater than 20%.

"The time is now to further diversify our fuel supply and move more biofuels into the market," Finkenauer said. "Biofuels offer a proven path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonizing the transportation sector, driving economic growth and creating jobs.”

“The renewable fuels industry is facing the worst crisis in its history today as a result of COVID-19, and producers across the nation are in need of immediate emergency relief to survive this catastrophe,” Renewable Fuels Assn. president and chief executive officer Geoff Cooper said. “Once the pandemic is behind us and economic recovery is well underway, expanding infrastructure for higher biofuel blends will be critical to the long-term future of the renewable fuels industry and rural America.”

Through the original Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership grants and private fundraising, Growth Energy and Prime the Pump shattered the status quo and supported the installation of E15 at more than 2,000 retail locations.

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 downturn, this legislation offers a roadmap for the next wave of growth that will revitalize rural communities and expand cleaner, more affordable options at the pump for millions of American motorists. We urge House and Senate leaders to embrace this opportunity to support low-carbon biofuels and propel higher blends into the next decade,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said.

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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