A (Virtual) Reality Check for Lawmakers

With its virtual Biofuels Summit 2020 coming up, Growth Energy intends to use the event to remind our nation’s leaders how homegrown biofuels lift up rural communities, save consumers money at the pump, and drive U.S. leadership in clean energy.
By Dan Sanders | August 21, 2020

It’s safe to say this year has not gone according to plan for most, including those of us in the ethanol sector. Despite the threat posed by COVID-19, we remain resilient in the face of the worst collapse in fuel demand ever recorded, even as our rural communities struggled this past year to overcome tough weather, shifting trade barriers, and hostile regulatory forces in Washington. At the same time, we’ve worked to keep Congressional leaders’ attention on major policy priorities—from restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard to building up our infrastructure for higher ethanol blends.

Now, as we enter the final stretch of 2020, we have a short window of opportunity to make our voices heard before the upcoming election in November, and that’s exactly what our team at Growth Energy plans to do during our annual Biofuels Summit 2020, Sept. 14-17. This year, the entire event will be online, with three days of virtual meetings, telecast speakers and video networking. Participants also will get an expert forecast on all the hot races from David Wasserman, house editor for The Cook Political Report.

Of course, cancelling the summit was never an option. The stakes are too high. After the demand destruction of this past year, farmers and biofuel producers cannot afford to pay the price for any more missteps in Washington. Now more than ever, lawmakers need to hear from those of us in the field, driving growth in rural communities and fueling the transition to a low-carbon future.

Those joining us for the industry’s premier Washington fly-in can expect a full agenda and a round of meetings with lawmakers representing communities from coast to coast.

Top of mind, of course, will be the recovery from COVID-19. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, ethanol production may remain below 2019 levels for most of 2021 without robust support from Congress and a firm commitment by the administration to rebuild the agricultural supply chain. We’re also casting a spotlight on the RFS, which remains under attack by oil companies and their allies within the U.S. EPA. Despite promises from the White House, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has stalled the rural recovery by delaying action on 2021 biofuel targets and refusing to faithfully enforce court limits on so-called “hardship” exemptions granted to oil companies.

We’re also meeting with lawmakers about our own big plans for the future, including efforts to reinvigorate exports. Over this next year, we must work quickly to rebuild our key markets in China, Brazil, Mexico and other countries where demand is already recovering from COVID-19.
At the same time, we must remind policymakers at home and abroad that ethanol remains the world’s best tool for decarbonizing the transportation sector while protecting healthy air for motorists and their families.

Lawmakers are paying attention. House Democrats recognized the need for low-carbon biofuels in a recent report by the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed biofuels at the center of its Agriculture Innovation Agency; and key senators are working closely with Growth Energy and our allies on legislation to promote sustainable farm practices. Similar conversations are occurring in states like California, where Growth Energy is working directly with academics and regulators to secure E15’s rightful role in the market.

We’re also working to ensure the success of USDA’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, which will deploy $100 million in competitive grants for blender pumps and other upgrades. In the past six months, Growth Energy has interacted with over 65,000 retail locations to encourage maximum participation in the HBIIP program. In this time, we’ve secured applications for nine retail chains or 325 sites that together sell more than 500 million gallons annually.

Of course, these are just a few of the headline conversations Growth Energy members will be having on Capitol Hill this September. What matters most is that we continue to come together and remind our nation’s leaders how homegrown biofuels lift up rural communities, save consumers money at the pump, and drive U.S. leadership in clean energy.

Author: Dan Sanders
Chairman of the Board,
Growth Energy
Vice President, Front Range Energy