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Farmers push ‘growth industry’

Ag community fights proposed cut to fuel standard

Farmers and other supporters of biofuels have been working relentlessly to derail proposed cuts in renewable fuel standards before the 60-day public comment period ends Tuesday.

Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a renewable fuels quota of 15 billion to 15.52 billion gallons for 2014, a cut of about 18 percent from the previously set standard of 18.15 billion gallons. The standard applies to corn-based ethanol as well as biodiesel made from soybeans and cellulosic products.

The proposed change in the amount of biofuels that can go into Americans’ gas tanks has sent fear into grain and energy markets, and threatened the stability of investments with biofuels producers.

“We’ve really been gearing up for our efforts against the EPA proposal,” said Jill Frueh, manager of the Bureau County Farm Bureau.

Those efforts include an Illinois Farm Bureau petition drive that warns of the damage the EPA cutbacks could do to the ethanol and biodiesel industries.

Jim Rapp, who raises corn north of Princeton, is District IV director of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. As an investor in Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan, he has been heavily involved in efforts to defeat the EPA proposal.

“We’ve sent out emails, news releases, and encouraged people to contact EPA to tell them how important ethanol is to the American farmers,” Rapp said.

The Illinois Petroleum Institute, Rapp said, is circulating “robocalls” to tell people ethanol is bad for their cars and it is responsible for rising food prices.

“These guys have a lot of money and they are known to tell some tall tales,” Rapp said. “Ethanol has enabled me and my two sons to sell crops for a profit. We need to keep that market strong.”

An ethanol industry-organized Day of Action on Thursday unleashed a flurry of grassroots efforts across the Midwest against the EPA proposal. On that day, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, led a rally at the Stephenson County Farm Bureau in Freeport. The 17th district congresswoman is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Bustos and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, led a bipartisan group of 31 members of Congress in expressing concern over the EPA proposal through a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. A group of 31 senators then followed suit by sending EPA a similar letter against the proposal.

Bustos told the large group gathered at the Farm Bureau that this is a personal issue for her – she comes from a long line of farmers on her father’s side. The congresswoman stressed the economic importance of a robust biofuels industry.

“There are seven biofuel plants and another that has broken ground in my congressional district,” Bustos said. “This is a growth industry – it has created 50,000 jobs in Illinois, and it’s a $5.3-billion-a-year industry.”

When the EPA made the proposal, Bustos set up a meeting with the EPA administrator to give her a heads-up that she would be getting a letter signed by the bipartisan group of lawmakers. Bustos said she left the meeting feeling hopeful.

“I anticipated hitting a brick wall,” Bustos said. “But she [McCarthy] stressed that these are just proposals, asked for data, and made it clear that EPA and the administration are not against biofuels.”

While U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, did not sign the Bustos letter, he and GOP colleague Aaron Schock of Peoria sent their own letter to the EPA. Sent Friday, the letter calls the RFS “a success story for American energy independence and the development of sustainable rural economies in our home state of Illinois and across the country.”

Citing the biofuels industry’s importance to domestic economic growth, job creation, and energy independence, Kinzinger and Schoch’s letter “strongly urge EPA to get this policy right and revise the proposed reduction in RVOs [renewable volume obligations].”

Ray Baker is general manager of Adkins Energy, a 50-million-gallon ethanol plant in Stephenson County. The plant has produced ethanol for 11 years, and Adkins’ new biodiesel plant will be operational in early spring. A reduction in the RFS would be a huge step backward, Baker said.

“In 2005, the RFS set a course to put renewable fuels onto the marketplace,” Baker said. “That marketplace had essentially been blocked for years.”

If the cuts are put into effect, the impact will transcend farmers and the biofuels companies, Baker said.

“Farm income will suffer, economic development and job growth will suffer, our country will become more dependent on foreign oil, and consumers will see higher gas[oline] prices,” Baker said.

Since the renewable fuel standards were started, U.S. oil imports have dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent of the nation’s consumption.

Ryan Whitehouse, associate director for national legislation and policy development for the Illinois Farm Bureau, told farmers to reach out at the highest level.

“Contact the White House directly,” Whitehouse said. “Call the switchboard and tell them that this is an environmental issue that is part of the administration’s stated mission.”

“At the very least,” Bustos said, “I hope we can keep the status quo.”

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