Groups comment on USDA’s new biofuel infrastructure program

By Erin Voegele | January 31, 2020

The Renewable Fuels Association, American Coalition for Ethanol and Growth Energy are among the groups that submitted comments to the USDA regarding the development of its new Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program.

The USDA issued a request for information (RFI) on Jan. 16 seeking public input to aid in the creation of the new program, which aims to expand the availability of ethanol and biodiesel by incentivizing the expansion and sales of renewable fuels. The effort will build on infrastructure investments and experience gained through the Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership, a program administered by USDA from 2016-2019 that expanded the availability of E15 and E85 infrastructure.

According to the RFI’s docket folder on www.Regulations.gov, 49 comments were received in response to the RFI by the Jan. 30 deadline.

In its comments, RFA recommended that available funding be primarily directed at offsetting the costs to install and/or upgrade retail and wholesale infrastructure compatible with higher biofuel blends. In addition, RFA stated that funding assistance should be accessible to retailers of all sizes and on a nationwide basis. This should include everything from small, single-store owners to mid-size retailers and large chains.

RFA also noted that many of the barriers that discourage broader expansion of higher ethanol blends are regulatory in nature and under the jurisdiction of EPA. RFA's comments ask USDA to encourage its peer agency to take action to resolve these many barriers.

“We appreciate the opportunity to respond to USDA’s request for information and look forward to working with USDA and our partners in the retail community,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “This program builds on the success of USDA’s original Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership, which helped increase the availability of E15, E85 and other higher ethanol blends at retail sites across the country. We stand ready to assist USDA and fuel retailers throughout the development and execution of this important program to promote high-octane, low-carbon renewable fuels.”

ACE said the program should incentivize the highest number of locations available over the widest geography possible and provide incentives to wholesale blending facilities, noting that having “RINless” ethanol or E85 available outside of fuel terminals has been the single most important factor in areas where significant volumes of higher ethanol blends are being sold. ACE also said any equipment used to store, blend, and dispense higher blends of ethanol should be eligible under the program. In addition, ACE suggested the program provide a combination of grants and high percentage cost share for the purchase of equipment, retrofitting, enhancements and other expenditures that will encourage retailers to investigate whether they can sell E15 and higher ethanol blends, particularly to pique the interest of “mom and pop” c-stores and assure them they can afford to add E15 and participate in the program.

“Following the November USDA meeting, we talked to some of the small retailers and groups who adamantly opposed E15 and didn’t like the first BIP program to find out what they would like to see in a new program,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president and market development director of ACE. “As expected, the main objections to adding E15 to their fuel product slate were beliefs E15 isn’t compatible with existing equipment, new infrastructure is too expensive, and only big convenience store chains can afford to offer it.”

Growth Energy said that if the USDA takes an equipment approach to the program, grants should be available for retailers to replace or add fuel dispensing and underground storage system equipment. The groups comments also discussed the possibility of creating a sales incentive for retailers to offer E15.

“We commend USDA and this administration for their swift action and are pleased to submit our comments on the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “In the last decade, Growth Energy and Prime the Pump have led the way in growing the offerings of higher ethanol blends to over 2,000 retailers across the nation, and our historical knowledge of this program and blueprint for success is unmatched. We are committed to the successful implementation of HBIIP to expand access to cleaner-burning, higher octane Unleaded88 at the pump, delivering a win for consumers, farmers, and the environment.” 

The National Biodiesel Board also weighed in on the development of USDA’s new biofuel infrastructure program. In its comments, NBB asked USDA to focus the program on investments in strategic terminals, pipeline storage and rail expansion to create broader downstream capacity to sell more gallons: "Investments would be best served on opportunities that would afford the greatest additional volumes of biodiesel (references to biodiesel include Bioheat and sustainable aviation fuel) to enter the marketplace. The greatest barriers to biodiesel distribution are at the terminal and pipeline terminal level, as well as rail to reach distribution centers."

"We thank USDA and administration leaders for following through on President Trump's pledge to support infrastructure projects that facilitate higher biofuel blends,” said Kurt Kovarik, vice president of federal affairs at the NBB. “EVAmerican consumers are increasingly demanding access to clean, low-carbon, advanced biofuels, like biodiesel. We look forward to working with USDA to strengthen the market for higher blends of biodiesel, renewable diesel, Bioheat and sustainable aviation fuels."

Additional information, including links to full comments, is available on the www.Regulations.gov website under Docket ID RBS-20-Business-0002.