A total of 2,700 jobs in rural America have been lost in the wake of the most recent waivers granted to oil companies excusing them from complying with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, leaders of 23 state corn growers’ associations from across the United States said Monday.
The job losses correlate to the idling or closure of fuel ethanol plants in Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota and Mississippi, the leaders said in a letter to President Donald Trump last week urging him to “uphold his commitment” to farmers and the RFS. Those closures affect demand for more than 300 million bushels of corn, the key feedstock for denatured grain alcohol blended with gasoline to make fuel ethanol, and more than 300,000 corn farms across the country.
The 31 new waivers granted Aug. 9 bring to 85 the total of such waivers granted by the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump’s administration. The waivers excuse small refineries from adhering to requirements that they produce “renewable fuels” as ethanol-blended gasoline and soy biodiesel, to the tune of around 4 billion gallons of annual production loss.
The RFS was created in 2005 and retooled as part of follow-on federal legislation in 2007. It requires that renewables be blended into transportation fuels in increasing amounts over time, with an eye to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
After news of the August waivers broke, many leaders of farm groups and corn growers’ organizations erupted in anger over the move, which further distressed producers also coping with weather disasters and facing export demand losses related to tariff wars. The waivers are seen as negating ethanol demand increases related to another recent move by the EPA, allowing year-round sales of E15, a 15-percent ethanol gasoline blend, and as another concession to the powerful oil lobby in Washington at the expense of farmers.
“Corn farmers are beginning harvest and continuing to lose markets the deliver their corn,” the corn growers’ association leaders said in last week’s letter to Trump, which was attached to a news release issued by the leaders on Monday. “Frustration in the countryside is growing.”
Signatories to last week’s letter include Dan Nerud of Dorchester, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, and Steve Rome of Hugoton, Kansas, president of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, plus commodity group leaders from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.
The letters ask that EPA account for projected waivers beginning with the pending 2020 RFS volume rule, requiring non-exempt refiners to make up the difference in their production. Such accounting would maintain the overall volumes of produced renewable fuels and insulate farmers from loss of demand for their crops.
“Accounting for waivers in the annual RFS volume process restores integrity to the RFS,” the letter states. “It also allows your administration to continue granting waivers, as allowed by the law, while keeping the RFS whole.”
The corn leaders expressed appreciation for EPA’s move on E15, and for other decisions by the Trump administration seen as benefiting agriculture, but cautioned that the Renewable Fuel Standard must be preserved intact.
“While adding gallons and improving market access for higher blends of ethanol are all policies farmers appreciate and support, future waivers will continue to minimize the RFS, unless your administration acts to account for waivers beginning this coming year first,” the letter states.
The corn leaders also welcomed moves to make farmers whole for what they will lose as a result of the waivers.
“We are pleased to see press reports indicating that, following a meeting with farm-state lawmakers, an agreement had been reached to address the harm caused by waivers,” the letter states. “With more than 4 billion gallons waived out of the RFS, we appreciate you listening to our elected representatives about what is needed to restore meaning to the RFS. Farmers across the country are anxiously awaiting the release of more details about this agreement. Ethanol plants will continue to close if you don’t act soon, creating a rippling effect throughout the rural economy.”
Monday’s news release was measured in tone compared to statements made the last week in August expressing frustration with EPA’s waivers. In an Aug. 28 news release the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Corn Growers Association declared farmers were “outraged by Trump’s broken promises.”
“Many of our corn farmers have stood with Trump for a long time, but that may soon change,” Nerud said in the Aug. 28 release. “Trump needs to uphold the law and his commitment to our nation’s corn farmers by making the RFS whole and bringing trade agreements to the finish line.”
Farm groups expressed appreciation last week for the signing of a long-sought agreement between the United States and Japan reducing or eliminating Japanese tariffs on many U.S. farm products.