Grassley provides update of COVID-19 relief for ethanol, SREs

By Erin Voegele | August 05, 2020

Sen. Grassley, R-Iowa, provided an update on the potential for COVID-19 relief for ethanol producers and the status of gap year small refinery exemption (SRE) petitions during a press call held on Aug. 4.

During the call, Grassley confirmed that not much progress has been made on the HEALS Act legislation, a phase four COVID-19 relief package released by the U.S. Senate on July 27.

If the House and Senate can agree on a comprehensive relief package, Grassley said he expects it will include relief for agriculture since phase-four legislation released in both the House and Senate provided ag relief.

The HEROES Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15 included a 45 cent per gallon payment for qualified biofuel produced by eligible producers from Jan. 1, 2020, through May 1, 2020.  The HEALS Act package released by the U.S. Senate on July 27 does not include dedicated relief for biofuel producers, but does provide the USDA with $20 billion to support agricultural producers, growers and processors impacted by COVID-19. As currently written, the bill would provide the USDA with discretion on how to distribute that $20 billion in aid.

Grassley said he would like the relief package to specify that a portion of that $20 billion should go to ethanol producers. Short of that, he said there will be a need convince the Secretary of Agriculture to allocate a portion of that funding to biofuels. Grassley said that might be difficult to do, not because Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue doesn’t want to help ethanol, but because there are so many other segments of the ag industry that are going to want relief. “I have not heard the secretary be unsympathetic to the need to help ethanol, but he seems to be in a quandary,” Grassley added.

If an agreement cannot be made on a comprehensive phase four COVID-19 relief package, Grassley said Congress will likely pass a “skinny” bill that addresses only a few relief needs, including unemployment compensation, evictions, and money for K-12 education. Other measures currently included in the House and Senate phase four bills would likely be addressed in September.

During the call, Grassley also briefly addressed the gap year SRE petitions that have been filed with the U.S. EPA by small refineries seeking retroactive relief from their Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements. Grassley said the U.S. Department of Energy has finished its reviews of those gap year SRE petitions. The U.S. EPA technically has 90 days to act on those DOE recommendations. During the call, Grassley said he doesn’t expect to see a decision from the EPA before that 90-day deadline.