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Activist Investor Wrong to Attack Homegrown Biofuels

  • Wednesday, 04 January 2017 13:50

Des Moines Register

January 3, 2017

By Delayne D. Johnson

Refinery owner Carl Icahn has been pressing the incoming administration to turn its back on homegrown biofuels, like those produced here in Iowa. Normally, that wouldn’t matter much, because President-elect Donald Trump campaigned and won on the promise of supporting ethanol and other biofuels. Unfortunately, Icahn has just been named as President-elect Trump’s new special adviser on regulation, an unofficial position that shields Icahn from legal requirements designed to curtail conflicts of interests.

It’s a sad state of affairs that threatens to derail President-elect Trump’s core of support in America’s heartland and turn Midwestern senators against cabinet picks like Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency. As someone who wants to see Trump succeed, my hope is that he’ll maintain a healthy skepticism about Icahn’s motives and keep the new administration focused on fulfilling its promise to revitalize rural economies, support agriculture and create jobs.

Step one will be for Pruitt to publicly reject the changes that Icahn is demanding to the Renewable Fuel Standard, America’s most successful domestic energy program for 11 years.

As currently structured, the RFS ensures that oil companies give biofuels a chance to compete at the pump, which creates competition and offers consumers more affordable fuel options. It does so by setting minimum targets for the volume of biofuels that refiners and importers must include in the fuel supply.

Refiners can meet their obligations by investing in renewable energy blending, and major players like Tesoro have called this the “rational, business-oriented” approach. But a handful of refiners allied with Icahn have elected to buy credits from other blenders, and now they are demanding a bailout from the EPA. Their plan would exempt select refineries and place new obligations onto fuel marketers and gas station owners.

The market for biofuels is strong. As a result, consumers have access to better fuel options at a lower price. Ethanol blends like E15 (15 percent ethanol) deliver more octane at a cost typically 10 to 15 cents less per gallon (saving consumers $15 to $22 billion annually) than standard E10. Mid-level blends, like E30, could save drivers twice as much. Even better, a new report from the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows how increased octane in mid-level ethanol blends can boost mileage and acceleration.

These homegrown fuels also support hundreds of thousands of energy jobs across the country, including those at Quad County Corn Processors, where we produce up to 110,000 gallons of ethanol per day. And they reduce our reliance on nations like Iraq and Venezuela.

Rather than incentivize retailers to offer consumers lower cost fuels like E15, E30 and E85; Mr. Icahn’s plan would put those savings into his own pocket, stifle market growth for renewable energy and decimate rural America. With farm income declining for the third straight year and a massive surplus of grain threatening to stagnate rural growth, we can’t afford for the administration to go back on its promise to support the RFS.

Delayne D. Johnson is chief executive officer of Quad County Corn Processors in Galva.

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