Electric cooperatives ask Congress to provide aid for ethanol

By Erin Voegele | May 08, 2020

Three dozen Midwestern electric cooperatives and rural electric associations send a letter to 20 federal lawmakers on May 7 asking Congress to provide much-needed economic relief for rural America, which continues to suffer from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Rural electric cooperatives were created to provide electricity to farms and rural communities and have continued to expand this essential service as rural America has grown and prospered,” the groups said in the letter. “Our member-owners have invested billions in not only electric infrastructure through their cooperative to serve these areas, but also in helping to develop the rural economy in which they live. These investments have allowed for diversification into biofuels, food processing, and other business development opportunities.”

The letter notes that a steep drop in liquid fuel demand has had a major impact on biofuel plants. Rural food processing facilities have also been severely impacted by the pandemic. “These events have left producers of several agricultural commodities without a market for their product, forcing some to euthanize animals or destroy their products,” the groups wrote. “The pandemic has compounded the impacts of low commodity prices and extreme weather events that had already created a struggling farm and rural economy.”

As congress considers a new COVID-19 stimulus package, the groups are asking for relief that specifically benefits food and ethanol processing plants, along with the farmers and ranchers who serve them.  “Estimates show as much as half of U.S. ethanol production has been idled,” the groups continued. “Without ethanol sales, our corn farmers are significantly harmed. Reduced ethanol production and livestock processing threatens our food and energy security, and in turn results in reduced electric load, a burden that ultimately falls on the individual members of an electric cooperative. The combination of these issues poses a significant threat to the overall wellbeing of the rural communities that we serve.”

The letter also urges the senators and representatives to reject any attempts by EPA to grant new RFS waivers and encourage the agency to rein-in its use of small refinery exemptions (SREs).  

“Further, additional economic support is necessary through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),” they wrote. “We have learned that the USDA is unlikely to directly provide biofuels producers any of the increased funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act appropriated to the Commodity Credit Corporation. Any additional stimulus legislation must provide biofuels-specific support. Failure to do so will significantly threaten investments made to develop biofuel and agricultural processing infrastructure, and the role these facilities play in supporting rural communities.

“Again, these industries are absolutely vital to the economic health of rural America, and we appreciate your consideration of these requests,” they continued.

The letter is signed by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Power Electric Cooperative, McLean Electric Cooperative, Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, Roughrider Electric Cooperative, Minnkota Power Cooperative, East River Electric Power Cooperative, Central Electric Cooperative, FEM Electric Association, Northern Electric Cooperative, Oahe Electric Cooperative, Sioux Valley Energy, Southeastern Electric Cooperative, Agralite Electric Cooperative, Rural Electric Association, Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light and Power Association, Redwood Electric Cooperative, South Central Electric Association, Upper Missouri Power Cooperative, Harrison County Rural Electric Cooperative, North West Rural Electric Cooperative, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative, Corn Belt Power Cooperative, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative, Midland Power Cooperative, Nishnabotna Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative, L&O Power Cooperative, Osceola Electric Cooperative, Nebraska Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, South Dakota Rural Electric Association, Minnesota Rural Electric Association, and Nebraska Rural Electric Association.

The letter is addressed to Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; Chuck Gassley, R-Iowa; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Ben Sasse, R-Neb.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; and Reps. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.; Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.; Steve King, R-Iowa; Cindy Axne, D-Iowa; Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa; Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa; Adrian Smith, R-Neb.; Jeff Fortenberry, R-neb.; Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn.; and Collin Peterson, D-Minn.