July 15, 2015
By Amy Bickel
Ness County farmer Dennis McNinch is among the nearly 300 corn growers who will rally on Capitol Hill on Wednesday with this message to the EPA - don't reduce ethanol mandates.
After all, the longtime Kansas grower touts, he has seen how ethanol has helped the economy - providing rural Kansas jobs and boosted corn prices - including at elevators near his west-central Kansas farm.
It's also a cleaner-burning, American-made fuel, he said.
Yet the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans in May to reduce renewable fuels requirements by nearly 4 billion gallons in 2015 and nearly 5 billion gallons in 2016.
Such shifts, McNinch and other Corn Belt farmers say, could reduce all of those attributes that have been a boon for rural America - which, largely, has been struggling with population declines since World War II.
The proposal has brought about backlash from farm country. Two weeks ago, hundreds of supporters rallied in Kansas City amid a EPA public hearing on the proposed reductions, said Sue Schulte, with Kansas Corn. She said of the nearly 300 who testified to EPA officials, about 85 percent spoke in favor of keeping the standards set forth by Congress in 2007.
Round two of the "Rally for Rural America" - takes place Wednesday - which coincides with the National Corn Growers Association's Corn Congress, Schulte said.
"We just want to reinforce our stand and commitment with our legislators about putting pressure on the EPA to revisit their stance on RFS - getting it returned back to what the law has requires," McNinch said.
Prime the Pump
The Renewable Fuel Standard - or RFS - mandates oil companies to use certain levels of biofuels. It also encourages industry growth and aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed new standards would require 16.3 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be used this year, down from 20.5 billion set by Congress in 2007, and 17.4 billion gallons next year, down from the 22.2 billion gallons.
EPA officials say the reduced standards are largely proposed because of inadequate infrastructure - such as the need for more pumps of higher blends - as well as concern about farmers' abilities to meet the demand.
Chris Grundler, the EPA's director of transportation and air quality, told the Associated Press in June that there is no way the standards can be met in the next few years unless they are reduced.
“There would be widespread noncompliance, and the EPA is not in the habit of putting out standards we don’t think are achievable,” he said.
McNinch, who is on the NCGA's Ethanol Action Team, said the industry is making strides to address those issues, which includes the Prime The Pump campaign.
The campaign's goal is to increase infrastructure in the marketplace so consumers have access to higher level ethanol blends, he said. Different groups, including ethanol plants and corporations, have donated funds to help offset the cost for fuel companies.
According to its 2015 budget goals report, the Kansas Corn Commission has projected spending $100,000 toward the campaign.
"The key going forward is we have to do a better job of educating the public about the benefits of ethanol - that it is a safe product for the engine, that it is cleaner burning fuel and it has created jobs in rural America as well as demand for our product," he said.
Public comment sought
The agency will make a final determination on the standards in November, said Kansas Corn's Schulte. The EPA is taking public comments through July 27.
The Capitol Hill rally, she said "will give us an opportunity to reach out to the Congressional delegation all over the nation."
White Cloud farmer Ken McCauley, a former NCGA president who was in Washington briefly Tuesday, said ethanol lowers gas prices by a $1 a gallon "and maybe more."
He was among the few hundred who testified in Kansas City. He told the EPA the the RFS has boosted rural communities and farm incomes across the United States more than "any other rural development effort I can think of."
Kansas has 12 ethanol plants that produce about 550 million gallons per year. Current Kansas production creates a market for about 183 million bushels of sorghum and corn, according to the Kansas Corn Commission. According to 2010 numbers, the industry pays more than $750 million to Kansas farmers for their grain.
"To lower the volumes of the RFS today would set back this economic engine dramatically and put rural America in a tailspin," he testified.
McCauley said farmers are growing enough corn to meet the demand, and if the demand is lowered, prices could decline.
"Farmers are gearing up to produce enough corn in 2015 and beyond," he said. "They shouldn't be messing with this - pulling it back."
"We don't need a setback like this," he said.
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