Ernst, Minnesota colleagues push for biofuels support, end of waivers

By: - June 22, 2021 6:43 pm

Green Plains has an ethanol plant in Superior, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

GOP U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst joined Democratic colleague Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota on Tuesday to push for stronger support of biofuels. 

They were joined at a Senate subcommittee hearing that Smith chaired by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, also of Minnesota. Klobuchar cited a recent chorus of rumor-fueled complaints alleging the Biden administration may be preparing to approve more controversial ethanol waivers for small oil refineries. 

“I was so disappointed with the recent reports that the administration is considering, and we don’t know if it’s true, exempting oil refineries from the (Renewable Fuel Standard),” Klobuchar said. She added that she had co-authored a letter signed by 14 members of Congress opposing the waivers, which reduce demand for ethanol and biodiesel. 

Iowa is the nation’s top producer of biofuels, which are largely made of Iowa’s top two crops, corn and soybeans. 

Klobuchar asked one of the ethanol industry’s top leaders, CEO Emily Skor of Growth Energy, “Is there any evidence that the oil refineries are suffering from economic hardship as a result of the (Renewable Fuel Standard)?”

Responded Skor: “Absolutely not. There is no correlation between the price of trying to comply with the RFS and refinery profits. This is something that has been affirmed by many, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Ernst noted that half of Iowans live in rural communities, many of which rely on biofuels for markets for grain and for jobs. Seventy-five of Iowa’s 99 counties have fewer than 25,000 residents, she added. 

“Needless to say, strong rural economies are essential to a strong Iowa,” Ernst said. 

Bill Cherrier, executive vice president and CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative, asked for legislation to give cooperatives tax credits allowing them to directly develop wind and solar, rather than working with third parties. 

He added that ethanol plants and improved broadband service are important to rural development. 

Smith said biofuels are part of the transition away from oil and gasoline.

“Biodiesel and ethanol are low-carbon fuels and they get greener every year, and become a more economic and viable alternative to fossil fuels,” Smith said. “If we add carbon capture and storage facilities to our biodiesel production facilities, as is proposed in Iowa and Minnesota, we can drive the carbon footprint down even further and create more opportunity in rural America.”

The session was held by the Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.