Senators urge Vilsack to provide COVID-19 relief for biofuels

By Erin Voegele | March 08, 2021

A bipartisan group of 10 senators on March 8 sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to provide targeted COVID-19 relief to U.S. biofuel producers through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp.

“We have been advocating for targeted relief for the biofuels industry since last spring when we were first made aware of the demand collapse for ethanol and other renewable fuels due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators wrote. “As you know, additional funding was added to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act. However, the previous administration argued that congressional intent was not clear with regard to support for biofuels and did not use its discretionary authority to assist biofuels producers through available CCC funding.

“As a result, we worked to ensure specific language was included in December’s COVID relief bill that explicitly clarifies that USDA may provide direct payments to biofuels producers hard hit by the pandemic,” they continued. “Providing aid to the ethanol industry would provide much-needed financial assistance for these key agriculture processors and help keep these critical markets open to farmers. It is for these reasons that we are supportive of the proposals the biofuels industry and key agricultural organizations have put forward to stabilize the market from last year’s macroeconomic shock.

“As the Department prepares a proposal for providing assistance to the agriculture industry using CCC and other resources, we ask that you use this explicit authority to aid the nation’s biofuels industry,” the senators added. “Keeping biofuels plants open is vital to the states we represent. We have been encouraged by your recent statements at your confirmation hearing that you will fully utilize USDA resources to get biofuel producers back on track and will aid the Biden Administration in restoring the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; Michael Rounds, R-S.D.; and Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Growth Energy has issued a statement in support of the letter. “We’re grateful to our Senate biofuels champions for their bipartisan effort in asking USDA to use CCC’s COVID funding for biofuels relief assistance,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. Biofuel producers, farmers, and others throughout the biofuels supply chain have been hit hard financially over the course of the pandemic and securing much-needed financial assistance would bring relief and certainty as they look ahead to a brighter year and build back what was lost.

“Secretary Vilsack understands the critical role the biofuels industry plays in supplying critical co-products, providing cleaner fuel choices to American drivers, and supporting the rural economy,” Skor continued. “We look forward to working with him on a solution.”

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from Grassley’s website