WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the nation’s ethanol producers that he’s reached out to EPA chief Gina McCarthy and White House officials to make sure they understand the importance of their industry before going through with plans to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
The EPA in November issued a proposal to lower the RFS requirement for 2014 by 16 percent, from the initial congressional mandate of 18.15 gallons of ethanol and biodiesel for blending into gasoline to 15.21 billion gallons. The plan is now undergoing interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Vilsack said he’s asked McCarthy to carefully review the 15,000 comments the proposal has generated from stakeholders and the public, many of which argue that corn-based ethanol has lowered the cost of gasoline, is good for the environment, reduces the country’s dependence on foreign energy, and helps create jobs.
“I don’t know what the decision is going to be,’’ Vilsack said yesterday at Growth Energy’s fifth annual leadership conference in Phoenix, referring to the final rule on the RFS. “But I know this – I think it is absolutely mandatory that this industry survives and continues to expand.”
Regardless of EPA’s eventual ruling, Vilsack said USDA stands ready with a host of programs to assist renewable energy producers and feedstock suppliers, including corn and soybean farmers, in marketing their products and in advancing technologies to produce new ones.
Vilsack specifically invited producers to accompany USDA officials this summer on what he said was the country’s first-ever trade mission to China to sell biofuels.
“We’re open for business,” Vilsack said. “You come to me, you come to USDA, and we’ll help you. Make no mistake about it.”
Earlier, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis addressed the gathering, repeating his charge that the proposed cuts to RFS are being driven by pressure from the petroleum industry.
“Big Oil likes to say we need an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy,’’ Buis said. “But if you read between the lines, that means all except renewable.”
In addition to the oil industry, the proposed cuts are supported by food makers and some environmentalists, who note that with the RFS, about 40 percent of the country’s corn crop, or about 5 billion bushels, is now going to ethanol production, instead of being used to make food.
“The notion that somehow we’re taking food out of the mouths of babes is crazy,’’ Vilsack said, calling on the renewable fuels industry to “break the unholy alliance between Big Oil and environmentalists.”
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