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Serving: KS
gas pumps at a gas station
REAL PROGRESS: When we see pumps like these at most gas stations, we will know we are truly making progress on implementing and exceeding the Renewable Fuel Standard. In the meantime, talking about opening comments shouldn’t be hailed as progress.

Not enough action in latest ethanol agreement

EPA's statement celebrates action, but details show the only action is a promise to open ‘comments.’

There’s good news on the ethanol front. At least, we’re being told there’s good news. I’ve been reading the “successfully negotiated agreement” on the Renewable Fuel Standard and I’m not so sure.

A statement from U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler praised President Donald Trump’s leadership for “an agreement that continues to promote domestic ethanol and biodiesel production, supporting our nation’s farmers and providing greater energy security.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue weighed in, praising Trump for demonstrating that “he is a champion for our nation’s farmers and rural America” and applauding “this forward-looking agreement that promotes economic growth and supports our producers.”

Color me overly curious but I decided to look for specifics of the agreement. Here are the “actions” that are being taken by EPA and USDA:

There will be a “forthcoming supplemental notice,” in which EPA will “propose and request public comment on expanding biofuel requirements beginning in 2020.”

EPA will also “seek comment” on actions to ensure that more than 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol is blended in the nation’s fuel supply and that the volume obligation for biomass-based diesel is met.

Note: EPA is seeking comment, not mandating that the volumes actually be met. There’s a tacit acknowledgement that “small” refinery exemptions are part of the problem, but absolutely no action to reduce them or to define “small.” A longstanding law mandates volumes. We don’t need comment, we need enforcement.

EPA “intends to take final action” later this year. In other words, absolutely nothing has happened. We should all be elated that something might happen later this year. Or maybe next year, or the year after.

EPA will “initiate a rulemaking process” to streamline labeling and remove other barriers to the sale of E15. Never mind that there is already a law that could be enforced. We’re going to begin talking about it.

The EPA statement goes on to praise the Trump administrations’ “tax and regulatory policies that have helped make America energy dominant” and goes on to mention the “burdensome red tape” that has been cut through deregulation, repealing the Waters of the United States rule, reforming the Section 401 process under the Clean Water Act, proposing a new methane rule, removing the U.S. from the “job-killing” Paris Climate Accord and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Time for some fact checking

The U.S. became a net exporter of refined petroleum products in 2011, according to the Energy Information Agency. As of 2014, the U.S. has been the third-largest international producer of crude oil, according to the CIA. And by 2016, the U.S. was between 86% and 91% self-sufficient in total energy consumption, according to the EIA.

Note that 2011, 2014 and 2016 all happened before Trump took office. The truth is that the U.S., thanks to advancing technology, was well on the way to being “energy dominant” before the 2016 election.

I would also note that the action being praised was supposed to be supporting ethanol. What exactly does repealing WOTUS (which was enjoined and never implemented in the first place) have to do with advancing ethanol? For that matter, what does allowing coal companies to dump waste into rivers or allowing natural gas drillers to be sloppy about methane releases have to do with advancing ethanol? And seriously, what does pulling out of the Climate Paris Accord or opening up ANWAR to drilling have to do with advancing ethanol?

It seems to me that all of those have a great deal to do with backing the cause of big oil and, in fact, hurt the prospects for getting more ethanol into the fuel supply.

Consider this: One big advantage of ethanol is that it reduces air pollution. So, in what universe does rolling back the rules on air pollution promote ethanol?

Elected leaders across farm country weighed in on the EPA announcement with profuse thanks to Trump for “taking action.”

The farmers who supply the feedstock for making ethanol and who own shares in ethanol plants need to be aware that they should take announcements like this with a grain of country salt.

The Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007. Its stated goal was reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding the renewable fuels sector of the economy. The idea was to support domestic demand for farm commodities and increase farm income while creating rural jobs.

Is it worth noting that pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, even minus the “job killing” talking point, doesn’t really do much to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

I’m holding off applause until I see an “action” that has a little more teeth than beginning to collect comments. And I encourage Kansas farmers to maintain maximum pressure to get EPA to actually enforce the laws that have been on the books for more than a decade.

TAGS: Energy
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