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Tax Credits, RFS Get Attention In D.C. As Biofuels Sector Continues To Struggle

Amy Mayer
IPR file
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley has worked to ensure the required volume of ethanol mandated by the RFS is maintained.

As the closure of the comment period on an Environmental Protection Agency rule regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) approaches at the end of the month, farm state lawmakers and biofuels advocates continue their push for a deal they say the president promised them.

In August, the EPA approved waivers for 31 small refineries, exempting them from blending otherwise required amounts of ethanol into gasoline. Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s two Republican senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, among others, cried foul saying the move would violate the mandatory ethanol amounts outlined in the RFS. Then, in a White House meeting, they say President Donald Trump promised the EPA would reconcile the waivers with maintaining the required volumes.

But they say the EPA’s published rule isn’t adequate.  

Grassley went to the White House Tuesday to discuss other issues, but he raised the RFS question while he was there.  Also on Tuesday, Grassley met with biodiesel leaders.

That sector of the renewable fuels industry has an additional, pressing concern: It’s been waiting two years for promised legislation to extend tax credits. Grassley offered one biodiesel plant’s math as an example.

“Without the tax credit, there’s a $5 million loss. With the tax credit, there’s a $5 million profit. So that’s a $10 million… swing,” he said. “And if we don’t get this done it’s probably going to be shuttered.”

Grassley says that would eliminate 30 jobs. Several biodiesel plants have already closed or reduced production this year.

Traditional and cellulosic ethanol producers have also decreased output and laid off workers.

Western Iowa Energy President Bradley Wilson, who currently serves as chairman of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, says the industry can only hold on for so long.

“Quite frankly, if they do not do (tax credits for) ’18 and ’19 — you’ve already seen some plant closings, but it’s nothing like you’re gonna see next year if they don’t take care of it this year,” he said.

Wilson met this week with Democrats and Republicans in both chambers and said everyone seemed to support the tax credits, even potentially including 2020 in a bill yet this year, which would prevent a similar situation down the road.

Still, he expressed some disappointment that promises made a year ago have not been fulfilled.

“It is a little disheartening that we were told this time last year that ‘hey, it’s not going to happen at the end of the year, but very first thing 2019 we’re gonna take care of the tax credit,’” Wilson said. “Well, of course, now here we are setting towards the end of November still nothing has happened with it.”