The Obama administration sent shockwaves through the Corn Belt late last year when it proposed cutting the federal mandate to blend ethanol into U.S. gasoline supplies. The plan has drawn sharp criticism from biofuels supporters who claim the Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, has helped to create nearly 400,000 jobs. This week, ethanol proponents held a “Hearing in the Heartland” to voice their support of the RFS.
In what was more of a rally than a hearing, dignitaries representing groups from Washington D.C. to Mainstreet joined Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to send a message to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa: “Big oil is delighted that the EPA has recommended that the EPA has weakened the Renewable Fuels Standard. But they're not satisfied, they want to repeal it altogether. We're not asking them to change policy, we're asking to stick with what's worked."
Nearly 100 people filled the room to hear about proposed cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.
At issue is whether the EPA will reduce the RFS by 3 billion gallons this year, reducing the annual output to 15 billion gallons. Nearly half of the cuts would be made in ethanol blending requirements.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, R-Indiana: “This proposal is back-tracking on the accomplishments made in the past 10 years.”
Representatives from Iowa`s Washington delegation who spoke at what was billed as “The Hearing in the Heartland” unanimously called on the EPA to leave the RFS alone.
Rep Steve King, R-Iowa: “And when you have an administration that can't make a decision on a Keystone XL pipeline but can make a decision on this, to back an industry up and freeze it in place, and, what, weaken it so the petroleum industry can buy it out at a few cents on the dollar, they'll be support for it then, if they own it.”
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa: "If you spent more time in rural Iowa, the President might realize that if you take too many steps backward in an Iowa pasture, without knowing why or where you're going, you may just step in something.”
And Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, characterized the proposed rule change as short-sighted.
Senator Charles Grassley, R- Iowa: "This investment has improved the environment, it's improved the economic well-being of Iowans, it's improved our balance of trade, and our national security."
Most of those who took the podium expressed concern over the potential loss of jobs, the ripple effect on local economies and the potential for reduced investment in advanced biofuels.
Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture: "Who in the world is gonna invest $200 million into a cellulosic ethanol plant that's gonna produce 30 million gallons of ethanol. As innovative and creative and as much opportunity as there is, if you sense the political dynamics can completely shift under your feet in a matter of a decision or two."
Ethanol plant managers and owners also spoke about investment in the future of the U.S. Fuel industry.
Jeff Briggs, Green Plains Energy: "I would ask, 'how does a county like Brazil, where they drive the same Fords, Chevys and Toyotas that we do blend 25 percent ethanol in their motor fuel, and have for over a decade, while the U.S. cannot get past 10 percent?' The answer is Big Oil's death grip on the U.S. consumer."
Politicians and ethanol plant managers were joined by representatives of the corn and biofuels industries who spoke to the crowd.
Monte Shaw, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association: “I call upon President Obama today to pick up that phone and to do the right thing for Iowa and America, to do what he promised us he would do when he was here in Iowa and that is to not mess with the RFS."
Kelly Manning, Growth Energy: “The RFS was not designed to help oil companies. We ask the EPA to move on the RFS forward not backward.”
Nearly all those making statements were ethanol supporters but there were a few who voiced their support for the proposed cuts.
Francis Thicke, Iowa farmer: “I don`t think the sky is not falling what we are looking for is a little more balance here.”
Most of the rhetoric focused on political and economic downsides of changes to the RFS. However, one speaker focused on the human cost of energy security.
Dr. Tim Gibbons, Mason City, Iowa: "The Iraqi War is over now. Ten years later, we have paid a heavy toll to stabilize the free flow of oil. Over that same time period I am unaware of a single casualty caused by the production of ethanol. I am unaware of a single service man who committed suicide after deployment due to renewable fuels. I am unaware of a prosthetic limb or a wheelchair being fitted for renewable fuels."
The comment period on proposed changes to the RFS ends Tuesday.