Perdue discusses state of rural economy with House Ag Committee

By Matt Thompson | March 04, 2020

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue briefed the U.S. House Agriculture Committee on the state of the rural economy Wednesday morning, and during the discussion spoke briefly about how USDA is supporting the country’s ethanol industry.

In a wide-ranging discussion with members of Congress, Perdue discussed the recently announced biofuels infrastructure program. “We tried to support the ethanol market by declaring that we will promote another infrastructure program,” Perdue said. “We’ll be doing a higher blends infrastructure incentive program of $100 million, helping the retailers to move to infrastructure that can support E15 and B20 and higher as we go forward.”

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said he supported E15 but advised Perdue that he felt clearer labelling was needed for the blend of 15 percent ethanol. “I have no problem with E15 being expanded,” Scott said. “I do have a problem without a labeling standard that cautions the consumer that if put in certain engines, it will destroy that engine.” Perdue responded that the labeling standard falls under EPA’s authority, but that USDA is working with that agency on labeling, although no specifics were discussed.

Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., asked Perdue about the infrastructure program and the USDA’s goals in implementing the program. “Our effort would be to make E15 the law of the land,” Perdue said. “We think with a better environmental footprint and less cost, the consumers will rapidly adopt that if they have access to it,” he added.

Trade was also a topic of discussion, and Perdue told the committee members he is optimistic about the Phase 1 trade deal with China. While he admitted that the effect the coronavirus may have on the agreement is still unknown, he said the technical efforts China has thus far undertaken regarding the agreement has been encouraging. “Right now, we’re in a trusting but verifying environment,” Perdue said, adding that USDA’s job is to hold China to its commitments.

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, asked Perdue about the ability of China to meet those commitments and which commodities stand to benefit the most from the agreement. While Perdue declined to predict which specific farm goods will benefit the most, he said that ethanol and its coproducts stand to benefit. “Certainly, your farmers in Iowa from a corn perspective, even ethanol and DDGs, those kinds of things, we think will have a great potential of helping China achieve those numbers—things that we’ve not sent over there recently, such as ethanol byproducts.”

Perdue was also asked about the environmental impacts of biofuels. While he said USDA believes there is some inaccurate information circulating about the environmental impacts of ethanol, “our research shows the contribution of ethanol and biofuels obviously lower greenhouse gas emissions and is good for the environment,” Perdue said.