I recently had the opportunity to question Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler about a number of issues important to our farming community. Particularly, I am concerned about recent action the EPA has taken related to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the impact those actions could have on our corn and ethanol producers.
Passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007, the RFS is one of the most significant actions the federal government has taken on behalf of rural America in more than 50 years. It requires transportation fuel in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels such as corn ethanol. Administrated by the EPA, compliance is tracked through a Renewable Identification Number (RIN) system and requires a minimum of 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels, like ethanol, to be blended annually.
The RFS has provided the statutory certainty necessary for the corn industry to grow and thrive, and as a result corn ethanol has become a vital component of our nation’s fuel supply. The explosion of corn ethanol production has directly helped our farmers, bolstered American energy independence and created thousands of jobs. However, it was recently reported that the EPA is providing RFS waivers to small refineries, thereby reducing the amount of ethanol required by the RFS and reducing the demand on corn and corn ethanol.
During a recent Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing, I had the opportunity to ask Acting Administrator Wheeler about these waivers. The agency has not been transparent in their process for granting these waivers, and I was pleased to hear Mr. Wheeler agree to work toward greater transparency, stability and openness moving forward.
I also reiterated to Mr. Wheeler the importance of keeping the RFS in effect and honoring our commitment to our corn and ethanol producers. They have invested billions of dollars to create an ethanol industry and it has been a success. Not only has it promoted the production of significant volumes of corn ethanol, corn ethanol has its own unique qualities that are important to our energy marketplace. It is used as an oxygenate in gasoline that is even better than the oxygenates it replaced. It is the best and cheapest octane booster available to the oil industry today. Corn ethanol will also help auto manufacturers meet increasing CAFÉ standards, which are regulations in place to improve the average fuel economy.
Corn ethanol production is a vital component of the South Dakota economy. The corn ethanol industry supports thousands of jobs in South Dakota and contributes a significant amount of revenue to South Dakota communities. As we move closer to 2022, the year in which the corn ethanol component of the RFS is anticipated to expire, I will continue working with the administration, my colleagues and stakeholders to make certain the federal government continues to live up to its promise to producers and that corn ethanol continues to play an important role in our nation’s fuel supply.