USDA biofuel infrastructure initiative to be up and running soon

By Erin Voegele | October 21, 2019

The USDA hopes to have a new program up and running in early 2020 that will support retail sales of higher ethanol blends, including E15, according to statements made by U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Stephen Censky during an Oct. 17 congressional hearing.

Censky appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Oct. 17 to discuss implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill. During the hearing, Censky fielded several questions on biofuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard.

As part of the U.S. EPA’s Oct. 4 announcement that a deal had been reached on small refinery exemptions (SREs) the agency also indicated the USDA would seek opportunities through the budget process to consider infrastructure projects to facilitate higher biofuel blends. During the hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked Censky to elaborate on those plans.

Censky said the USDA does have history with biofuel infrastructure development, but said the agency wants to move forward with a new, different program. He said the USDA plans to talk to independent retailer and folks in the biofuels industry to learn about what is needed to incentivize the use of higher blends of ethanol and what infrastructure will be required.

“We plan on having some roundtables in the very near future on that and then look forward to trying to implement a program and have it up and running by early next year,” he said.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., also questioned Censky on RFS-related matters. According to Smith, she spoke with many of her constituents to prepare for the committee hearing. “I have to tell you, the number one thing that people wanted to talk about was not implementation of the Farm Bill, but this ethanol situation,” she said, noting that the ag community felt hopeful when President Trump provided assurance that the 15 billion gallon statutory requirement for renewable fuel would be met. However, when the EPA released its supplemental rule Oct. 15 “people really felt like it was a bait and switch,” Smith said. She noted Censky worked closely with the White House and EPA on the SRE deal and asked what biofuel supporters need to be doing to ensure the 15 billion gallon requirement is met and stop SREs from damaging the U.S. agriculture industry.

Censky responded by stressing how important the Renewable Fuel Standard is to rural America, rural jobs, producers, and supporting commodity prices. He said based on his conversations with President Trump he can offer assurance that Trump “is insistent that EPA administer this to make sure we achieve 15 billion gallons. Just as recently as last Friday, [U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue] had a conversation with [U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler] where the EPA very much plans to administer to make sure we achieve that 15 billion target.”

A full copy of the hearing is available on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry website.