RFA marks E15 anniversary, urges Trump to stand up for the RFS

By Erin Voegele | June 11, 2020

The Renewable Fuels Association on June 11 marked the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s visit to Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy by calling on him to reject requests from oil state governors to waive 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements.

Trump visited SIRE on June 11, 2019, to celebrate the U.S. EPA’s approval of year-round E15 sales. A media call held by the RFA on the one-year anniversary of that visit highlighted what a volatile year it’s been for the ethanol industry.

Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA, said the U.S. ethanol industry was optimistic following Trump’s visit to SIRE, noting those at the event thought Trump had heard their message and that the ethanol industry had a friend in the Oval Office.

During the visit, Trump was confronted about the EPA’s misuse of small refinery exemptions (SREs). He said he would look into that issue and that he was with us, Cooper said. “That’s why we were completely shocked a few months later when EPA granted another 31 small refinery waivers,” he continued. “Those waivers really hit us like a ton of bricks. They exasperated the industry’s demand struggles that we were already facing and they completely overwhelmed the traction and the moistest gains we were beginning to see from E15.”

Cooper said that 2019 ended up being one of the most difficult years in the history of the U.S. ethanol industry. Things were looking up in early 2020, however, due to several factors, including the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s January ruling on SREs and the launch of a new biofuel infrastructure incentive program at USDA. That optimism began to fade in March when the industry began to feel the impacts of the oil price war and the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Cooper, the ethanol industry was forced to idle approximately half of its production capacity. RFS waiver petitions filed with the EPA by several oil state governors also threaten to erode demand for ethanol, and Cooper noted it currently appears the EPA is trying to skirt the Tenth Circuit Court ruling by allowing oil refiners to apply for retroactive SREs. The ethanol industry went from being optimistic to being in crisis mode within a span of a few short months this spring, Cooper said.

While the ethanol industry is beginning to see some signs of recovery, Cooper stressed that more than 40 of the country’s approximately 200 ethanol plants are still idle. Many others are operating at below capacity. In addition, he said the long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on fuel markets is currently unclear.

Cooper expressed hope that that a phase-four COVID-19 stimulus bill will provide dedicated relief for U.S. ethanol producers. He also stressed the industry needs the Trump administration to faithfully enforce the RFS.

The RFA sent an open letter to Trump on June 11 calling on him to reject RFS waivers requests filed by oil state governors.

“One year ago today, you visited Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs to join us in celebrating a monumental achievement,” the RFA said in the letter. “At your direction, EPA had just completed regulatory changes finally allowing year-round sales of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol—called E15.”

The letter notes E15 sales are up approximately 50 percent, but stresses that growth would have been exponentially larger if the EPA had not continued to excuse oil refiners from their legal obligations to blend renewable fuels. “As we told you a year ago, EPA’s refinery waivers have caused devastating demand losses for ethanol and corn, and they undermine the expansion of E15,” the RFA wrote.

The letter urges Trump to stand up for the RFS and direct the EPA to abide by the Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling on SREs and end the abuse of the refinery waiver loophole.

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from the RFA website.