Governors bypass Obama, plea to EPA Administrator directly

By Ryan C. Christiansen | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 9, 2009, at 8:30 a.m. CST

His request to President Barack Obama having been ignored, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, who is also chairman of the Governors' Biofuels Coalition, has forwarded the coalition's plea directly to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, requesting that the EPA increase ethanol blend levels to 15 percent. The Governors' Biofuels Coalition is a biofuels policy development group that includes governors from the majority of U.S. states.

With the ethanol industry suffering financial losses during the current economic recession, the governors' coalition sent a letter to Obama on Feb. 17 requesting that the president expedite an increase in ethanol blends to E13 (13 percent ethanol mixed with 87 percent petroleum gasoline). The governors noted that "temporarily lower oil prices and the near saturation of the 10 percent ethanol blend market are weakening the foundation of an industry that saved the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in oil imports in the past several years, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions." On May 27, the president responded in a letter to the governors' coalition, but Obama did not specifically respond to the coalition's call for higher ethanol blends to increase demand for ethanol.

On June 5, Hoeven announced that he spoke directly with Jackson to request that the EPA expedite the coalition's previous request to raise the ethanol blend to help expand the market for domestically produced biofuels. "The nation needs greater energy independence and domestic ethanol producers need a boost under current market conditions," Hoeven said. "Increasing the proportion of ethanol to 15 percent would move us closer to both goals."

Hoeven said Jackson indicated that she will work to expedite the process of considering the request. Until now, the EPA has said it expects to reach a final decision by Dec. 1 on whether to honor a fuel waiver request submitted March 6 by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers and other supportive parties. The waiver request was filed in accordance with section 211(f)(4) of the Clean Air Act and seeks to increase the base fuel blend from 10 percent to 15 percent ethanol. The EPA announced May 15 that it's extending the period for public comments regarding the request. The public comment period for the waiver request was initially set to end May 21, but will be extended for an additional 60 days and will now end July 20. On April 17, the National Corn Growers Association sent a letter to Jackson, asking the agency to extend the comment period because farmers in the Corn Belt would be working extended hours through the duration of the original comment period and may not be able to participate. The American Coalition for Ethanol has been lobbying members of Congress and the White House for the blend increase since Sept. 16, 2008, according to ACE executive vice president Brian Jennings.

Hoeven said he has also invited Jackson to North Dakota so that she can see firsthand the innovations being used in the state to produce ethanol. He cited the Blue Flint Ethanol facility near Underwood, N.D., a joint venture between Great River Energy and Headwaters Inc., which is using waste heat from the adjacent coal-fired power plant to help produce 60 MMgy of ethanol. He also asked her to join him for a tour of the 120 MMgy Tharaldson Ethanol plant west of Casselton, N.D., which uses recycled waste water from nearby Fargo, N.D., as its sole water source.

"These are two unique environmental success stories, and we originated them here in North Dakota," Hoeven said. "We are producing more energy in environmentally sound ways for the nation, and we'd very much like her to see how we're doing it."