The pushback illustrates the political challenge Biden faces as vehicle technology evolves and environmental concerns increase. The biofuels industry is influential among Democratic and Republican lawmakers in agricultural states.
Ethanol production supports more than 300,000 jobs concentrated in rural areas and added an estimated $ 43 billion to U.S. economic output in 2019, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, a lobby group for ethanol producers. Reminders of its political importance come every four years, as presidential candidates from both parties worship ethanol in primary campaigns before crucial Iowa caucuses.
“In the long run, ethanol is a dead end fuel,” said Scott Faber, head of government affairs at the Environment Task Force. In the meantime, Faber said, ethanol is still useful while the transportation sector relies on gasoline and other liquid fuels.
New electric vehicles represent only 2% of vehicles on the roads in the United States. But Biden has targeted cars as the key to his green ambitions, and major U.S. automakers have announced their own goals as well. General Motors, for its part, has said it will transition to a fully electric future by 2035, while Ford recently announced a new battery research and development center in Michigan to help ramp up production of electric vehicles. .
Federal support for ethanol remains politically sensitive, given the industry’s outsized influence in agricultural states. Biden has tried to break into farmers and rural voters, but farm groups remain skeptical of his climate agenda.
Farmers and ethanol groups say the Biden administration has many tools at its disposal to boost their industries without compromising its push for electric vehicles.
“There is so much fruit on hand for the administration right now,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a biofuels trade association.
The least of all, Skor said, is to tighten the annual requirements under the renewable fuels standard. The policy, known in the industry as RFS, requires that renewable fuels be blended into transportation fuel in a certain volume. Proponents of biofuels say it has been undermined by the Trump administration’s policies that granted numerous exemptions to small refineries that claimed the cost of blending into fuel had been economically detrimental to them.
Biofuels are cleaner compared to gasoline, and industry-funded research by Environmental Health & Engineering Inc., Harvard University and Tufts University found that ethanol’s carbon intensity of corn is 46% lower than that of conventional gasoline.
The biofuel groups hope the Biden administration will enforce the RFS program more rigorously, in part by reducing its issuance of exemptions to blending requirements.
“You do that and you’re going to immediately put more biofuels into the fuel supply, and that’s going to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions. You can do it like snapping your fingers tomorrow, ”Skor said.
So far, the Environmental Protection Agency under Biden gives biofuels more expressed support than the Trump administration has. For example, the agency changed its stance – now supporting biofuel advocates – in a closely watched federal case against oil refiners that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The agency, however, also extended deadlines for refiners to comply with their obligations under the RFS – a move the biofuels industry has not supported.
EPA administrator Michael Regan has vowed that biofuels will be a key part of the agency’s overall climate strategy. He will be crossing Iowa on Tuesday, including visiting the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant and hosting a panel discussion with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and leaders of the farming community, according to the EPA spokesperson. , Nick Conger.
At a Senate hearing last week, Regan said he was speaking with the agriculture industry about the future and the evolution of corn ethanol – though he stopped before telling what will that future look like.
“There is no intention in terms of exclusion when we talk about the bright future of electric vehicles or when we talk about the bright future of advanced biofuels,” Regan said. “The reality is, as we talk about these promising futures, we have to face the here and now.”
Vilsack, from Iowa, has repeatedly said biofuels are a key part of Biden’s plans.
He has already directed a small amount of federal money towards biofuel projects, like helping gas stations offer higher blends of ethanol and including transformers in the latest round of pandemic relief programs. ‘USDA. Vilsack also quickly evokes the potential of biofuels in air and maritime transport.
But Biden’s largest legislative proposal to date, the $ 2.5 trillion infrastructure plan, only includes a vague reference to supporting research and development for biofuels.
Rob Walther, vice president of federal advocacy at biofuel producer POET, said that based on ongoing conversations with allies and congressional leaders, the company is confident that “the plan was an opening offer in order to define the vision for bold climate action.
“You could infer that he was very powered by an electric vehicle,” Walther told POLITICO. “On the other hand, we have a solution to the problem they’re trying to solve, so we plan to be part of those discussions in the future.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently acknowledged that biofuel supporters “need to be in these conversations and at the table” as infrastructure legislation comes together.
Farmers who grow feedstocks for biofuels, like corn and soybeans, are also closely watching how Congress fills out the details of Biden’s infrastructure spending plans. As electric vehicles gradually reduce demand for liquid fuels, this could lead to a growing corn glut – about 40 percent of the U.S. crop is now used for ethanol. And that could lead to a sharp drop in prices.
“The discussion between how EVs will fit into our transportation network and how the higher blends of ethanol and biofuel will fit into our transportation network seems to be going side by side, rather than competition, ”said Mike Stranz, vice president of advocacy. for the National Farmers Union. “We will be in contact with the legislators and the administration as we go [the infrastructure package] comes together. “
Including money for biofuels in legislation could also help Biden appeal to Republican lawmakers. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a longtime proponent of ethanol, called for a bipartisan approach to infrastructure – but he demands that farmers and biofuel producers be included in the effort.
“Pres Biden promised [to] fight against climate change [with] “Well-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced” but no mention of US biofuels? “ Grassley tweeted last week. “The United States leads the world in low-carbon biofuels supporting rural jobs and green incomes for farmers. His program for [have] all electric cars will cut 43k jobs in ethanol [Iowa]. “
Faber of the Environment Task Force dismissed the idea that the rise of electric vehicles is a threat to farmers.
“We have other belts and suspenders to support the price of corn,” he said. “The fact that ethanol is going to take the due diligence route does not ultimately affect the long-term outlook for grain prices.”
In April, Biden released new targets to cut greenhouse gases by at least half by 2030 and pushed research and development towards “next-generation ultra-low-carbon renewable fuels.” for applications such as aviation and other advanced transport technologies in all modes ”.
The mention was praised by ethanol groups, although the Renewable Fuels Association warned in a statement that “renewable fuels can do much more than decarbonize aviation and other off-road markets.”
“I think everyone agrees, including the White House, that we will be using hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid fuels in internal combustion engines for decades to come,” said Geoff Cooper, chairman and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. POLITICO before Biden’s announcement. “So while we are building the infrastructure to support more electric vehicles, we should also be building the infrastructure for low carbon liquid fuels.”
Biofuels groups say there are several priorities they would like to see in the infrastructure package, including a USDA-run subsidy program that gets regular funding to help gas stations offset the cost. upgrading their infrastructure to higher biofuel blends.
“If there are tax breaks and incentives for electric vehicles, there should be discounts or incentives – not on the same scale – for flex-fuel vehicles that can use up to 85 percent ethanol.” , Cooper added.