Groups defend USDA funding for blender pumps, trade programs

By Holly Jessen | March 27, 2015

Ethanol and agricultural groups have sent a letter to a House of Representatives subcommittee, advocating for the continued funding of U.S. blender pump initiatives and U.S. export promotion efforts. 

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, American Coalition for Ethanol, National Farmers Union and National Corn Growers Association signed the letter. It was sent in response to another letter sent to the same subcommittee, which was written by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Peter Welch, D-Va., and Jim Costa, D-Calif., and 13 other lawmakers. That letter asks that language limiting continued government support for corn ethanol be included in the 2016 Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Programs Appropriations bill. Specifically, the letter asks that none of the funds made available by the act be used for USDA blender pump grants or to pay any USDA salaries to support blender pump programs and, secondly, that none of the funds be used for the USDA to promote the export of U.S. ethanol.

The letter pointed out that the recently passed farm bill already includes language that prohibits the use of USDA money to install blender pumps through the REAP program. “USDA’s past, modest efforts to provide funding assistance to fuel retailers to upgrade their infrastructure to offer more biofuels like ethanol have helped provide some consumers greater access to low cost biofuels,” the letter reads. “However, given the franchise structure of the retail gas industry, and the oil industry’s 100-year monopoly on the fuel market, the transition to higher volume biofuel blends has proven to be a very slow and difficult undertaking.”

Now, the legislators want to expand that even further. “In a blatant effort to shelter the oil and gas industry from any further competition from ethanol, Representatives Goodlatte, et al. are seeking to place limitations on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to help promote the consumption of American made ethanol at home and abroad; something that agency has been successfully doing with other agriculture and livestock products for decades,” the letter reads.

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, reacted to the Goodlatte letter earlier in the week. “This request stems from a flawed and inaccurate argument that has been disproven time and again that we must choose either food or fuel,” he said. “The reality is that ethanol production produces both food and fuel.”

The legislators have worked on other, related efforts. On March 23, Goodlatte, Jim Costa, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ariz., reintroduced the RFS Reform Act. The bill seeks to cap the amount of ethanol blended into fuel at 10 percent, repeal the “mandate” for corn ethanol and encourage the use of alternative advanced biofuels. “The requirement to blend corn ethanol into gasoline has been a well-intended flop,” Welch said, claiming ethanol is damaging small engines like snowmobiles, chainsaws and boats and driving up feed prices.