Corn producers make final push for comments on EPA proposal

Jan 24, 2014

Ethanol supporters came on strong in the final week for public comment on EPA’s heavily debated proposal that would drastically cut the amount of the corn-based product required in gasoline mixtures.

While animal production ag has remained relatively quiet on the media front, corn producers have been pushing for more comments on EPA’s potential 10 percent cut in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard.

“We’ve seen a terrific grassroots response on behalf of our growers and our state affiliates, who have pulled out all the stops to make sure the farmer voice is heard loud and clear,” said National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Martin Barbre, an Illinois corn grower. As the deadline approaches, we urge those who have not yet spoken out, to do so immediately.”

Barbre cited, in particular, a deceptive new “robocall” campaign by the American Petroleum Institute that left pre-recorded messages on voicemails across the country, even on farmers’ phones.

“Seeing how great our response has been, it’s not surprising Big Oil is feeling the heat,” he said. “But if they think that harassing farming families with impersonal dinnertime calls is a smart tactic, we’re happy to see them waste their money.”

In addition to commenting to the EPA, farmers have been calling the White House and Congress by the thousands, Barbre said, noting that the decision to roll back the use of domestic, renewable ethanol appears to be primarily a political decision.

“There’s no reason to cut ethanol and create the potential for economic havoc in the heartland when we’ve got an abundance of corn,” Barbre said. “Farmers and consumers should not pay the price for the oil industry’s reluctance to move forward and embrace a cleaner, smarter fuel future.”

Two Iowa Corn Growers Association leaders hosted a media conference call Jan. 21 to address the EPA proposal and discuss comment submissions.

“One of the real concerns going forward is corn is $2.75-$3.00 lower than one year ago. I just brought my son back to the farming operation and this feels like when I started farming in the early 80’s,” Roger Zylstra, Iowa Corn Growers Association President and a farmer from Lynnville stressed on the call.

In November, the EPA announced the proposed lowering of the renewable volume obligation (RVO) from the annual target of 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons. According to a study from Louisiana State University, the impact could cause a 5.7 cent increase in fuel prices and hit farmers with an additional dip of about 19 cents per bushel.

Mark Recker, a farmer from Northeast Iowa and the chair of Iowa Corn committee that promotes ethanol said, “I started farming in the 90s and I have not seen anything impact me more than ethanol. This isn’t just about farmers like me, this is about implement dealers, gas stations, banks, and schools. We are all interconnected in this issue and we need to tell the EPA not to change our current RFS. It is working.”

“Ethanol makes sense for America moving forward,” said Zylstra. “The EPA proposal doesn’t.”

While corn growers were busy pushing the comment lines, others were also putting in their two cents. According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a new study that compared the greenhouse gas emission reductions of corn ethanol and those of crude oil production and fracking, shows that corn ethanol’s carbon intensity is declining while the carbon intensity of petroleum is increasing, hence making another potential argument for the ethanol push.

According to the report, “As the average carbon intensity of petroleum is gradually increasing, the carbon intensity of corn ethanol is declining. Corn ethanol producers are motivated by economics to reduce the energy inputs and improve product yields.”

The study, commissioned by the RFA, found that average corn ethanol reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 percent compared to average petroleum in 2012. This estimate includes prospective emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC) for corn ethanol. When compared to marginal petroleum sources like tight oil from fracking and oil sands, average corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 37-40 percent.

RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen made the following comments on the results of the new study. “When it comes to ethanol’s carbon footprint, biofuel critics and some regulatory agencies are unfortunately stuck in the past.

We don’t need to wait until 2022 for corn ethanol to deliver on its promise to reduce GHG emissions. This study uses the latest data and modeling tools to show that corn ethanol has significantly reduced GHG emissions from the transportation sector since enactment of the original RFS in 2005.”

“Further,” said Dinneen, “the report highlights that ethanol’s GHG performance will continue to improve and diverge with crude oil sources that will only get dirtier as time goes on. When ethanol is appropriately compared to the unconventional petroleum sources it is replacing at the margin, the GHG benefits are even more obvious.

While beef producers didn’t appear to jump on the last minute push for comments, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s (NCBA) past President Steve Foglesong did testify at a hearing on the topic in December.

“I am a corn farmer, I just choose to feed it to cattle, it’s value added,” said Foglesong. “It’s not that different from the ethanol industry who takes corn to feed it into their plants and produce ethanol, dried distillers grains (DDGs), and carbon dioxide instead of beef. The process is identical, all but the RFS mandate, which gives the ethanol industry an advantage in purchasing corn. We’re not opposed to corn ethanol, but it’s time to look at reforming the RFS and let the market pick winners and losers instead of the government.”

“NCBA supports the EPA’s proposed rule as it’s a step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done to level the playing field for all users of corn,” said Foglesong. “There is still work to do and we will continue to work with Congress to bring reform to the RFS.”

The EPA is accepting comments through Jan. 28. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor