Two Midwestern governors chastise EPA

The governors of Nebraska and Iowa are not mincing words when it comes to their feelings about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In a conference call with reporters, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman called EPA “the enemy of agriculture”.  Heineman says the agency is the biggest regulatory issue that farmers and ranchers face.

“The federal government, particularly under the Obama Administration, has been overly aggressive with regulation,” Heineman said. “We all support clean air, clean water and appropriate regulations.  But it’s the EPA that’s the enemy of agriculture, I’ll put it that way.”

Iowa governor Terry Branstad took the criticism of EPA a step further.  In an interview with Le Mars, Iowa radio station KLEM, Branstad put some of the blame on EPA for recently-announced layoffs at Deere and Company’s Waterloo, Iowa tractor plant.

“A few years ago, we had the best corn prices we’d ever seen. Now the EPA has cut the Renewable Fuels Standard, we have a large crop of corn out there and the price of corn is below the cost of production,” Branstad said. “When farmers see they’re not going to be making money, they quit buying equipment—and that’s just exactly what’s happened.

“We were promised by Gina McCarthy, the director of the EPA, we’d have a decision (on RFS) before the end of June.  They still haven’t—so I really lay that in the hands of the EPA,” Branstad said.  “They’ve really done real damage to the farm economy—and now the jobs at John Deere and farm machinery manufacturing as well.”

By statute, the final RFS rule for 2014 was due at the end of November last year. EPA finally submitted the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget on August 22nd.

NCGA hopes EPA has reversed RFS decision

The final rule on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for 2014 is now in the hands of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The original EPA proposal cut the corn-based ethanol mandate from 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons. Chip Bowling, a Maryland farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association, is hopeful that the EPA has reversed that decision.

bowling-chip-ncga“We’re hoping that they raise it back up to the 14 billion gallons as it should be,” Bowling says. “We’re thinking that they’re going to meet us halfway—that they’ll come up from the 13.1, to 13.6 or 13.7—but our hope is they’ll put it back to where it should be and stick with it.”

With a big corn crop on the way, Bowling says reducing the RFS doesn’t make sense.

“We’re growing another big crop—we’re going to double our carryover from last year to this year—and there’s no reason to back it down now,” he says. “The ethanol market, at this point, is doing well on its own—and it needs to keep moving forward.”

OMB has 90 days to complete its review of the rule.  Many analysts expect it to be published in late September or October, but there is also speculation it may not happen until after the November elections to avoid any political fallout.

AUDIO: Chip Bowling at Farm Progress Show (6:32 MP3)

Valero celebrates restart of Mt. Vernon facility

Valero Renewable Fuels and the Ports of Indiana celebrated the restart of the Mt. Vernon ethanol plant today.  Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann says the opening of the Valero facility at the Port of Indiana – Mount Vernon is another economic development win for the state of Indiana.

The Mount Vernon plant is the 11th corn plant in Valero Renewables’ system and the second in Indiana.  Its annual production capacity is 110 million gallons.  The plant had been shut down for nearly two years, but production resumed at the site earlier this month and now employs 65 full-time workers.

The location of the plant provides logistical advantages that include ready access to corn suppliers as well as strong rail, truck, and barge transportation.

By adding the Mount Vernon location, Valero’s ethanol production will now total more than 1.3 billion gallons per year.

Final RFS proposal goes to White House

The Environmental Protection Agency has sent the Final Proposal for the Renewable Fuels Standard to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review.  National Biodiesel Board vice president Anne Steckel welcomed the news saying the delayed process has “severely disrupted the U.S. biodiesel industry this year.”  Steckel urges the White House to move quickly on the proposal.

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen says he has not seen the rule holds strong to the belief that the EPA and OMB will fulfill President Obama’s commitment to biofuels “as a means of greater energy independence, lower greenhouse gas emissions and wider availability of cost-saving alternative fuels for American consumers.”

Cellulosic ethanol arrives, but challenges remain

Photo courtesy of POET

Photo courtesy of POET

For many years we’ve been hearing that cellulosic ethanol is “just five years away”.  Now, with three cellulosic plants preparing to come online in 2014, it appears cellulosic ethanol has finally arrived.

However, according to John Hay, a University of Nebraska Extension educator specializing in energy and biofuels, there are still some questions about the economic viability of cellulosic ethanol production.

“The question is, can it be done cheap enough—and that really depends on a lot of things,” Hay says. “Can they get the feedstock at the price they want?  Is the price of oil where they can raise it and make it cheap enough?”

Hay says the boom in U.S. oil production has clouded the outlook for alternative fuels.

“The reality is that through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the oil industry in the United States has really gone on an upswing—and that has kept the prices relatively low,” he says, “and that’s good, maybe, for us as consumers—but maybe not as good for that bioenergy market to climb very fast.

“So I think it’s going to be a very slow incline into some alternative fuels.”

Hay made those comments in an interview with Brownfield at a Switchgrass Bioenergy Feedstock field day near Beaver Crossing, Nebraska.

AUDIO: John Hay (7:38 MP3)

Project LIBERTY nears start-up

project liberty 8-14Project LIBERTY, POET-DSM’s cellulosic ethanol plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa, is nearing the start-up of production.

According to a company news release, plant personnel are currently running biomass through the pretreatment process.  Once fully operational, Project LIBERTY will process 770 tons of corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk daily to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, later ramping up to 25 million gallons annually.

POET-DSM officials say they plan to license their cellulosic production technology to companies across the U.S. and around the world.

Project LIBERTY will open its doors to the public at a Grand Opening Celebration on September 3rd.  The event will feature plant tours, a formal ceremony and more.

Hudson: Chicago pumped about E-15

The president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association says things are looking up for E-15 in Illinois.  Gary Hudson told Brownfield Ag News at the Illinois State Fair that he was part of a very positive meeting recently.  He says, “We had a good hearing up at the City of Chicago. They’re talking about implementing E-15 at every station, having at least one pump that will pump E-15. And, boy, Chicago’s always been a leader on cleaning up the fuel system and going to lower prices for their consumers.” The Corn Growers met with the Chicago City Council’s finance committee.

Tricia Braid, ICGA communications director, says Illinois currently has 10 stations offering E-15 as a stand-alone fuel,” adding, “It goes up if you include locations that have E15 in a blender pump.”

Interview with Gary Hudson at the Illinois State Fair (4:00 mp3)

RFS announcement may not come until after November elections

As the 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) rule continues to work its way through the interagency review process in Washington, there are now indications that it may not be made public until after the November elections.

During his weekly conference call with ag reporters, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was asked what he’s hearing about the RFS.

“I haven’t heard anything definitive on RFS that’s anything official,” Grassley says. “My gut feeling—and I think the gut feeling of many other people—is that it’s not going to come out until after the election.”

Speaking at the recent American Coalition for Ethanol conference in Minneapolis, Paul Machiele, director for fuel programs in EPA’s Assessment and Standards Division, said he couldn’t predict how long the review process will take.

“That review period can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days—sometimes 60 days.  I don’t know what they’re going to do with this one,” said Machiele.

Grassley hopes the continued delays portend a more positive outcome for the biofuels industry.

“The only good news that I can see in that is that from where they started last November, until now, maybe the delay of their making a decision would indicate that there might not be as an erratic change in policy as what they originally proposed,” Grassley says.

The EPA’s original proposal cut the corn ethanol fuel requirement from a statutory level of 14.4 billion gallons to just over 13 billion gallons.  Biofuels supporters lobbied the agency to reverse that decision and move the number closer to the 14.4 billion gallon figure. contributed to this story.

W.H. official hints at higher RFS volumes

Minnesota Senator Al Franken says he is confident that the final biofuels blending mandates in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) will be higher than what the EPA initially proposed.

Franken and other Senate Democrats met this week with White House adviser John Podesta.  Franken says Podesta indicated that the volume numbers will be larger than they were in the preliminary RFS announcement.  Podesta also told the senators that the release of the final rule is “imminent”, but did not offer any further clarification on the timetable.

Governor upset over lack of RFS decision

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is upset that federal officials have failed to meet a promised deadline for a decision on the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“Why hasn’t the EPA decided on this issue of the Renewable Fuels Standard? We were promised that decision would be made at the end of June. Here we are, the middle of July, it’s still not been made.”

Governor Branstad says he has met with the EPA Administrator three times to make the case for keeping last year’s production levels. The E-P-A is considering a lower production requirement for 2014, adding, “You know what’s happened to the price of corn since they started this foolishness? Corn has gone from 5-and-a-half dollars a bushel to below $4 a bushel – I’m talking about below the cost of production.”

A 2005 federal law requires the EPA to set a yearly production goal for renewable fuels. The RFS has been increased every year since then but late last year the Obama Administration proposed a reduced amount of renewable fuels production for this year.

Last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters a final decision on 2014 RFS volumes was coming “soon.”

~Radio Iowa contributed to this report~