Ag groups advocate for the RFS in letter to Obama

By Erin Voegele | November 11, 2014

A group of agriculture organizations recently issued a letter to President Obama asking him to intervene in the U.S. EPA’s proposed cuts to the 2014 renewable fuel standard (RFS) volume obligations. The final 2014 RFS rule is expected to be released soon.

Within the letter, the agriculture organizations stress that the blending targets and methodology included in the proposed rule are already causing significant harm to the biofuel sector. “These impacts are reverberating throughout the U.S. agriculture economy, and we expect this trend to continue if the targets and the methodology in the rule are not corrected,” the groups wrote.

The letter also explains that the establishment of the RFS program sent a signal to rural America that agricultural producers are partners in the country’s efforts to enhance our energy security. According to the letter, that signal indicated that if the agriculture industry could innovate and identify new feedstocks for low-carbon cellulosic and advanced biofuels, enhance sustainability, and increase yields, those low-carbon fuels would be sold in the marketplace. While the American agriculture industry has responded to that signal, the letter notes the EPA’s 2014 RFS proposal diverges from the course that Congress laid out for the program.

Farmers doubled the yield of U.S. corn crops between 1980 and 2009 with only a 3 percent increase in acres. However, the contribution of farmers isn’t limited to corn production. “We’ve worked with advanced biofuel producers to identify new sources of feedstocks,” said the groups in the letter. “Using newly designed equipment, we’re harvesting corn stover from existing fields to feed low carbon cellulosic ethanol facilities. Across the country, farmers are finding new crops to drive our energy independence with investments in sorghum, barley, wheat, woody biomass, and other dedicated energy crops that will diversify our feedstock supply.”

The letter also stresses that the innovation pipeline is helping to drive an economic renaissance in rural America. “There are four commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants opening in 2014 alone, creating hundreds of new jobs in rural America,” wrote the groups in the letter. “Until the proposed rule was released, the cellulosic sector was poised for expansion. Yet, with the release of the EPA’s proposal, investments are now moving overseas as first movers like Abengoa attribute their decision to locate their next cellulosic facility in Brazil rather than the United States to the EPA’s proposed rule.”

The letter also addresses the impact on farm income, noting the net farm income forecast for 2013 was $131.3 billion. That number has fallen 14 percent, to its lowest level since 2010. “The EPA’s proposed policy decision is driving one of key economic engines—the biofuel sector—overseas,” said the letter. “We have invested in response to the signals in the RFS and are poised to deliver the very low carbon fuels you have sought for so long. Instead of reaping the economic benefits of this investment with a build-out of a domestic biofuel industry, the methodology proposed by EPA is offshoring the industry—and our market. This is a decision we cannot afford in America’s heartland. We urge you to ensure the EPA modifies this damaging rule.”

The letter was signed by the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Sorghum Producers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and Agricultural Retailers Association. A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from the NCGA website

The EPA is now nearly a year behind its statutory deadline for issuing the final 2014 RFS volume obligations. Under the RFS program, the EPA is technically required to issue final volume obligations for a particular year by Nov. 30 of the preceding year. For the 2014 RFS, that deadline would have been Nov. 30, 2013. The EPA published its proposed rule for the 2014 RFS in mid-November last year. The comment period on the proposed rule closed Jan. 28. On Aug. 22, the EPA delivered the final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. That process is currently ongoing. The EPA’s Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker currently indicates the final rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register in November.