Bustos Says Fight Over RFS Levels Not Over


June 29, 2015

By Jeannine Otto

GALVA, Ill. — We want our billion back.

It might be the catchphrase for a taxtime TV ad, but it’s also what one member of Congress feels farmers and gas-buying consumers in her district are owed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I would say they owe us a billion, the way I look at it right now,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.

Bustos visited Big River Resources LLC’s Galva ethanol plant. The plant is one of seven biofuels plants in the Rock Island Democrat’s 17th Congressional District.

Bustos was greeted by Big River administration, including CEO Ray Defenbaugh, board member Gene Youngquist and others.

“Let’s talk about where, hopefully, I can play a role here,” Bustos said after she greeted some of the stakeholders for the Galva plant and some of the founders.

“RVO,” said Wilbur Nelson, one of the founders.

Defenbaugh explained some of the problems with the numbers released in May by the EPA.

Those numbers fell short of what the U.S. ethanol industry was hoping they would be.

“The initial problem is with the methodology. It sets a precedent. They are not allowed to do that, it’s like waters of the U.S., the EPA is not authorized to do that. If you let them get away with it, the next step, whatever they come up with, may be even less favorable,” Defenbaugh said.

He echoed the sentiments of many in the ethanol industry who claim the EPA does not have the authority to reduce the amount of ethanol blended into the U.S. fuel supply below levels set by Congress in the 2008 Renewable Fuel Standard.

Bustos agreed.

“I agree with you. I don’t think they are authorized to do this. I think if they don’t alter this and get it back to where we want it to be, I think there are going to be some legal issues with this,” she said.

1.5 Billion Bushel-Loss

According to the Illinois Corn Growers Association Corn Corps publication, cutting the corn ethanol obligation by 3.75 billion gallons would equal about a 1.5 billion bushel-loss in demand for U.S. corn.

Defenbaugh said to cut one demand avenue for corn could devastate some farmers.

“If we produce the grain, the potential is there that everybody thinks, if we produce that, it will be way more than the 180 bushel average we had this year. That has brought us 60 to 70 cents below the cost of production. No business can survive producing below the cost of production so you’ve got to create demand,” he said.

“The story I want to be able to tell the administration and EPA when I go back to Washington is what this is going to do to Galva, Ill., what this will do to the rural economy if we don’t get this back to the level that we want it to be and what it should be,” Bustos said.

She said the ethanol industry is a $2.1 billion business in her district, from the seven plants and related economies.

“You don’t take it lightly when somebody is trying to harm a $2.1 billion industry. I see this as a kick to the gut, it’s not what we need to just sit back and accept,” she said.

Bustos also noted that if blend levels are not raised, consumers could feel more pain at the pump.

“This ruling, if it keeps at this level, a billion less than where we want it to be, it will raise the cost of fuel for our consumers,” she said, adding the hike to gasoline could be as much as six cents per gallon.

Bustos toured the plant and a plant under construction next door that will extract zein, a corn protein used in candy, pill and other coatings. She spoke with plant workers and urged them to be part of the public comment period that continues to Nov. 30.

“That’s why this public comment period is so important,” she said.

“I don’t think the folks in the ethanol business are going to take this lying down and so when it’s all said and done, this could end up in court and could be a battle for quite a while,” she said.

Bustos vowed to continue to fight to restore the RFS levels.

“We have to keep fighting to get the blend level at the rate that will make plants like this one sustainable and put them in a position where they can continue to grow,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see but this is not all said and done.”

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