Fourteen years ago, I joined my Republican and Democratic colleagues in Congress to draft and pass the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) law, which requires home-grown biofuels to be blended into gasoline and diesel. The RFS has been a resounding success: today, nearly all domestic gasoline has 10 percent ethanol, we lead the world in ethanol and biodiesel production, and we export record volumes to Canada, India, and South Korea. Biofuels now are produced at more than 270 plants nationwide, creating hundreds of thousands of job, including union jobs, and adding $44.4 billion to our economy.
I can hardly think of a national policy in this generation that has fostered greater rural economic output in such a short time than biofuels. Ethanol and biodiesel created new markets for crops, provided relief to motorists from price spikes at the pump, cultivated a greener Midwestern alternative to Mideast-sourced petroleum, and drove the creation of new rural commerce and jobs, both on and off the farm.
Yet in just two years, President Trump has upended the American biofuels market. By issuing 85 waivers that allow oil refineries to stop blending biofuels, he has single-handedly delivered one crippling blow after another to everyone who invested decades in building the biofuels venture. Biofuel production, prices, and revenues today are the lowest in history. Thirty-five biofuels facilities have closed or idled, including two in Illinois, thousands of rural jobs have been lost, and the demand equivalent to more than a billion bushels of corn and soybeans have evaporated.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy reports oil company profits have soared to $28 billion, the best in five years. As oil executives reap rewards, farmers harmed by the President’s puzzling trade talks with China are relying on $28 billion in special aid payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On Oct. 4, after increasing outcry, the President ostensibly agreed to account for the gallons removed from the RFS as a result of small refiner exemptions. This, he promised, would restore the total of 15 billion gallons of biofuels in the national fuel supply required annually by law, even saying it could reach 16 billion gallons.
Days later, observers were stunned when the Trump Administration published details that instead slashed the biofuels agreement by half. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration tried to tell local stakeholders that nothing had changed.
Last week, the Trump Administration finalized this watered-down deal. Despite the initial praise for the President’s deal, many now wonder if we will ever see a biofuels market under this President like we once had. There are few options remaining to fix the damage.
Ethanol and biodiesel became successful because politicians of both parties came to a good faith agreement on how to build a new industry. You can stake a lot of the success of the RFS on the longtime rural values of cooperation, innovation, and the integrity of keeping one’s word. This bipartisan achievement is now at risk because of the striking difference between this President’s actions and his words.
President Trump claims his love for ethanol and biodiesel is strong. I say believe it when you see it. On his watch, biofuels markets are still stalled and facilities stay closed.
Richard J. Durbin is a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois.
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December 23, 2019 at 01:40PM