Censky, McKinney nomination hearing addresses biofuels, RFS

By Erin Voegele | September 20, 2017

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing on the nomination of Stephen Censky at deputy secretary of agriculture and Ted McKinney as under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Biofuels, the Renewable Fuel Standard and trade issues were among the topics discussed at the hearing.

President Donald Trump nominated Censky and McKinney to fill the USDA posts in July. Censky has served as CEO of the American Soybean Association for the past 21 years. Before joining the ASA, he worked as a legislative assistant and held several posts at the USDA. McKinney is director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. He has held the post since 2014. He worked for 19 years with Dow AgroSciences and 14 years with Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Co.

During the hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Censky to discuss the importance of the RFS and asked him if he will commit to working with the U.S. EPA to ensure that the 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) are forward-looking and reflect the reality of advanced biofuel production.

In his response, Censky said he agreed that the RFS is “very important to rural American and to our farmers.” He noted that is familiar with the program due to his past work with the ASA. He also stressed that Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have both indicated strong support for the RFS. If confirmed, Censky said he plans be a champion for setting the appropriate RVOs under the program.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also addressed the importance of the RFS and ethanol. He discussed the need for the USDA to participate in the effort to fight recently imposed import tariffs on U.S. ethanol, stressed the importance of opening the U.S. market to E15, and briefly noted how important export markets are to the U.S. ethanol industry. He asked that the nominees urge the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy not to stand in the way of progress being made by the U.S. biofuels industry.

Perdue issued a statement giving high marks to Censky and McKinny for their joint appearance before the committee. “Today we saw two nominees who are experienced, prepared, and capable of providing the steady leadership we need at USDA, and we can’t wait to get them on board,” Perdue said. “We have accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time in our department, but we need Steve Censky and Ted McKinney to join the team as we face serious challenges in agriculture in the coming months and years.”

“With producers in many states just beginning to assess the damages and losses from back-to-back hurricanes—and with wildfires continuing to rage in large swaths of the country—we will need Steve Censky’s counsel to help navigate the landscape,” Perdue continued. “And as Congress continues work on the 2018 Farm Bill, his guidance and input will be invaluable. Likewise, as we continue USDA’s mission of feeding an ever-growing world population, we will need Ted McKinney to be the unapologetic advocate of American agriculture as we expand U.S. access to international markets. He will be the one who wakes up every morning asking where he can sell more American products to foreign consumers.  I trust that the Senate will confirm them both in a speedy fashion.”

Prior to the hearing, Growth Energy issued a statement in support of Censky and McKinney’s nominations. “Having strong leaders at the USDA who understand the role biofuels play in improving the U.S. farm economy and rural America is of the utmost importance to our industry,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “We have faith that both Mr. Censky and Mr. McKinney would bring this knowledge to these positions, and we fully support their nominations.”

“Through his years at the helm of the American Soybean Association, Mr. Censky has seen biofuels transform the U.S. agricultural economy, which assures us he knows that biofuels can be an excellent tool as we seek innovative ways to strengthen the farm economy,” Skor continued.

“Mr. McKinney has a keen understanding of what drives the growth of American ethanol in the international marketplace,” she said. “Given trade challenges across the globe, including in Brazil, China, and the European Union, we need a strong agricultural voice at USDA who will make sure our trading partners understand that open markets mean more prosperity for all.”