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Newton REG general manager defends RFS to EPA at hearing in D.C.

Iowa’s politicians and members of the renewable fuel community are still fighting to change the EPA’s mind about its upcoming proposal on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Last Thursday, Bruce Lutes, general manager of Newton’s REG facility as well as REG’s Danville, Ill. plant, testified at an EPA hearing. REG produces biodiesel and its byproducts and employees 23 people at the Newton facility, which is capable of producing 30 million gallons of biodiesel annually.

“In Newton, Iowa, the Maytag plant had just closed its doors and wiped out 2,500 direct jobs in a town of 14,000,” Lutes said at the hearing. “Most of the employees at REG Newton are former Maytag employees. Newton is starting to recover from this huge loss of jobs, but the ripple effects are still very present.”

In addition to the 21 employees who work for REG that would be directly effected by a reduction in the RFS, Lutes explained how this would trickle down and effect other parts of the economy.

He cited transportation companies — last year alone the Danville plant saw 14,000 truckers come through — suppliers of raw materials for production, chemical suppliers, welders, pipe-fitters, hose-makers, repair crews and numerous other positions.

“These are real people, paying taxes, buying goods, sending their children to schools and buying houses,” Lutes said.

Lutes went on to provide the EPA with an example that hit close to home for them, by comparing this situation to the recent federal government shutdown, which lasted more than two weeks in October.

“With sequestration and the government shutdown, you and your government colleagues have gotten a small taste of what it means when your job isn’t there,” Lutes said. “You were told you couldn’t come to work, and some of you had to tell your colleagues that they would have to take days or weeks off without pay.

“I have had to do that in my past and present careers,” he continued. “And, I have had to look people in the eye who had done their jobs well, and tell them they would no longer have a job to come back to.”

Besides the substantial economic impact —according to Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds there more than 45,000 renewable fuel based jobs in Iowa alone — Lutes also spoke on what he felt were the positive benefits of biodiesel and other renewable fuels.

“Biodiesel has proven itself with increased production, increased efficiencies and increased environmental benefits,” Lutes said. “Biodiesel is not part of the problem. It is a part of the solution. So why would you want to slash these tremendous benefits, ignore the data, and ignore the facts?”

Lutes also defended the current version of the RFS from its critics.

“To those who say, ‘The RFS forces the government to pick winners and losers.’ I say, ‘This policy is a winner for jobs, for the economy, for energy security and most definitely for the environment.’” he said. “The only way you pick a loser here is by picking the numbers in this proposal. Let’s not take that step backward.”

To close out his testimony, Lutes once again brought up the economic and environmental positives of biodiesel.

“On behalf of the employees I have the honor of working with in Danville, Ill., and Newton, Iowa, and the tens of thousands of other Americans whose jobs are directly or indirectly supported by the biodiesel industry, I ask you to stick with a winner and increase the biomass-based diesel and overall advanced (Renewable Volume Obligation). Thank you for your time,” Lutes said.

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