EPA cannot quit on RFS

Stories about people like Jeff Oestmann, Scott Zaremba, Marietta Lakness and the people of Quad County Corn Processors are proof that the EPA cannot quit on the RFS, writes Brian Jennings. This column appears in the September issue of EPM.
By Brian Jennings | August 17, 2015

I’d like to introduce you to some of the people who are proof that good things come when the U.S. EPA and other policymakers in Washington have the courage to do the right thing by the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

Take Jeff Oestmann of American Coalition for Ethanol-member East Kansas Agri-Energy LLC.  Jeff’s 11 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps instilled a sense of leadership that guides him to this day as CEO of the Garnett, Kansas-based company.  He works to fix problems and doesn’t give up.  That explains how Jeff helped East Kansas Agri-Energy pursue technology innovations at their plant to make both ethanol and renewable diesel from the same feedstock.  Thanks to the RFS, the company will eventually produce corn ethanol and advanced biofuel from one crop.  Oil companies aren’t happy about that.  They want to lead Americans down a different path, one without the innovation and economic benefits the RFS has sparked in communities like Garnett.  For Jeff the RFS is a call to leadership.  It is time EPA heeds that call as well.

The people of Quad County Corn Processors, another ACE member, would be the first to tell you they were spurred on by the opportunity the RFS presented them to innovate.  In fact, QCCP has quietly and humbly made cellulosic ethanol history.  They were the first company in the world to produce cellulosic biofuel from corn kernel fiber and the first to commercially produce 1 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel.  Like East Kansas Agri-Energy, Quad County is making two renewable fuels from one feedstock.  They’re doing it without fanfare, just the devotion, ingenuity, and hard work of people in northwest Iowa like QCCP’s CEO Delayne Johnson and plant engineer Travis Brotherson.  Why is it that EPA wants to put the brakes on this kind of innovation by helping oil companies block consumer access to E15 markets?

Scott Zaremba, CEO of Zarco USA, knows more than most people what EPA and oil companies have done to make it hard for consumers to have access to E15 and flex fuels.  He grew up in the fuel business and experienced oil company strong-arm tactics to stop renewable alternatives to gas.  So in 2012 he called their bluff on the so-called E10 blend wall, broke away from oil company contract restrictions, and became the first retailer in America to offer E15.  Since that time, sales of E15 and flex fuels have grown at his stations scattered across Kansas.  Oil companies are supposed to do the same thing—either allow E15 and flex fuel sales or buy renewable identification numbers (RINs) from other obligated parties.  Of course, most oil companies haven’t done either.  Instead, they’ve convinced some at EPA the blend wall is real and that limits must still be placed on consumer access to cleaner and more affordable fuels.  We can only hope Scott and the several retailers like him who testified at the EPA hearing in Kansas City this summer can help open EPA’s eyes up to the benefits of letting the RFS work as Congress intended.

Marietta Lakness is a South Dakota farmer and rancher who has seen up close the challenges rural America faces.  That’s why she joined with her neighbors to invest in ACE-member Glacial Lakes Energy, their very own hometown biorefinery.  Thanks to the RFS, Marietta and the 4,000 other investors in Glacial Lakes Energy have helped unleash a new chapter of prosperity for communities in northeast South Dakota.  There’s a new market for her crops, new feed for her livestock, new fuel for her neighbors, and new dollars circulating throughout her community. 

People like Jeff, Delayne, Travis, Scott  and Marietta aren’t just proof of the good things that come when Washington gets policy right.  They are also trying to help EPA succeed in fulfilling the goals of the RFS.  That’s why it is so mystifying that EPA is siding with oil companies who take the agency to court every time they roll out new renewable fuel blending targets.

EPA cannot quit on the RFS.  They cannot take sides with oil companies whose ultimate goal is to repeal the RFS.  Doing so turns a program designed to promote innovation and clean air into one that chokes innovation and increases pollution. 

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
605-334-3381
bjennings@ethanol.org