In August, President Donald Trump again pledged to intervene with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and set the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) back on course. Farmers and biofuel producers eagerly await action and results to follow these promises.
For every step President Trump has taken to support the RFS, the EPA has taken two giant leaps back to support oil refiners, undermining the integrity of the program.
Throughout the president’s first term, his EPA has waived away the RFS volumes established by Congress, cutting the volumes to the fullest extent allowed under the law and rolled back these volumes by a significant percentage.
EPA has worked in secret to create new, individual waivers for dozens of refiners. It took the biofuel industry years of lawsuits and political pressure to uncover the full extent of the damage.
EPA handed out dozens of small refinery exemptions over three years, eliminating an additional half-billion gallons from the already reduced markets for biodiesel and renewable diesel.
When farmers’ and biofuels producers’ anger boiled over the last year, President Trump brokered an agreement to plug the massive hole that EPA created in the RFS with these exemptions. At the end of the day, his EPA took only a half-measure to stem the ongoing damage.
Now, two months before the election, the agency is withholding this year’s annual RFS rule and refusing to honor the president’s deal.
The agency has again moved to invite even more of the exemption requests. Refiners have filed more petitions in 2020 than ever before, asking EPA to grant a string of the exemptions dating back to the start of the RFS in 2005. EPA has opened the door to these petitions in order to unravel a January decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which clearly stated the EPA has no authority to grant these new exemptions. EPA should have rejected them long ago but is holding out false hope to refiners.
Donald Trump has promised time and time again “to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard” and expand volumes, beginning with his first campaign visits to Iowa in 2016. If he moves to stop EPA’s abuse of these exemptions and get the annual RFS rule back on schedule, he can make a case to Minnesota farmers and biofuel producers that he keeps his promises.
The RFS is a bipartisan policy, of course, with enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle. Now’s the time to remind all legislators they have their own promises to keep. Democrats and Republicans should be making a bold commitment not just to end refiners’ sway over the RFS, but also to reestablish its goals and restore growth to the program.
Biofuels and farming are key to carbon reduction and environmental goals. Biodiesel and renewable diesel cut carbon from transportation by 65 percent – the largest source of emissions for the nation. That is the fundamental goal of the RFS, and the program has proven successful.
Moreover, these advanced biofuels cut particulate pollution, improving air quality and bringing immediate health benefits to the nation’s cities and transportation corridors.
Biodiesel is also a huge economic generator. The homegrown fuel increases demand for soybeans by 13 percent, contributes nearly $1.7 billion toward Minnesota’s economy and adds roughly 5,400 jobs to the state.
As president of the nonpartisan Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, I strongly urge farmers, biodiesel producers, and others to visit the National Biodiesel Board’s Fueling Action Center and send email messages directly to President Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, imploring them to limit small refinery exemptions.
Actions speak louder than words. Farmers and biodiesel producers need to see an actual rejection of these waivers and upholding the RFS. Our votes come Nov. 3 may depend on it.
Jamie Beyer farms in Wheaton, Minnesota, and is president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.