NEVADA — Gov. Terry Branstad said the Environmental Protection Agency has “embarked in a war on corn” with its proposal of lowering the current Renewable Fuel Standard at an event on Friday at the Lincolnway Energy plant in Nevada.
The message of “Don’t Mess with the RFS” was made loud and clear Friday by citizens and politicians from all over Iowa at the rally, which was put together by the state and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
In addition to Branstad, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rep. Steve King, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey, and several prominent members of the alternative fuel community spoke at the event.
“I know how important this is to not only all of you, but to the entire economy of our state,” Branstad told the fired up crowd of farmers, investors and concerned citizens. “The ethanol facilities in Iowa are significant as are the biodiesel facilities.”
Iowa is the nation’s leader in renewable fuels. There are 42 ethanol plants, 12 biodiesel plants — including REG in Newton — and 185 E85 fuel stations. In addition, Iowa leads the nation in soybean and corn production, both of which are key components to producing renewable fuels.
“We produce more ethanol than we consume in gasoline in this state,” Branstad told the crowd, which responded with raucous applause. “This is one of the reasons we have a strong economy in Iowa, much stronger than the rest of the county. You may have heard the unemployment numbers and it shot to 4.6 percent in Iowa.
“We can’t let the EPA send it in the wrong direction,” he continued. “This industry provides good paying and vital jobs right here in communities all across the state. It supports our communities and our rural way of life and it provides American made renewable fuel and other byproducts.”
Branstad gestured toward the ever-growing pile of dried distillers grain behind him to showcase one of the many byproducts from renewable fuels.
“Why are we here today? We are here to stand up and stand strong for Iowa’s renewable fuel industry and the jobs that it has created in this state and the communities and the families that rely on it,” Branstad said.
“The White House and the EPA, through recent administrations, through either party, have always supported renewable fuels and the RFS from the beginning and they need to get back on board and work with us,” he continued.
Branstad said he personally called EPA Director Gina McCarthy, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and the White House once he heard the rumors of the RFS proposal. He also mentioned he and Reynolds spoke with McCarthy this summer at the Iowa State Fair about the RFS and she gave no indication of making drastic changes.
“She gave us every indication that the EPA would continue to support a robust RFS,” Branstad said. “Despite these conversations and the warnings we gave, they still went ahead and proposed a bad rule. Unbelievably, the EPA has embarked in war on corn. A war on corn from our own EPA, it makes no sense.”
Northey, who is a farmer in addition to his state duties, talked about how these regulations would hamper an industry which is continually expanding annually.
“A lot of folks that help make the renewable fuels industry are in this room,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks that have made a lot jobs across this state and across this country and have made cheaper renewable fuels. Cheaper than gasoline out there and there are consumers that have benefited from all that you have done and we have a lot at stake and you know that.
“One of my jobs is to remind us all of how far we have come,” Northey continued. “There are folks in this room who were a part of things back when we used to have to explain what ‘ethanol’ was, what ‘gasohol’ even was, and even what ‘biodiesel’ was ... never imagining we would get to the place where we are talking about 10 percent of the gasoline supply in this country.
“Huge amounts of imports that don’t have to happen because of the things that you all are doing and the things you’re doing to make this happen,” Northey said. “All that’s at stake. We are talking in excess of a billion, maybe 1.7 billion gallons of biodiesel. These are numbers that were inconceivable a decade ago.”
REG Vice President of Sales & Marketing Gary Haer spoke about his personal experience in seeing biodiesel grow in the last 20 years, his shock at the EPA proposal and how this would slow down his industry’s growth.
Haer said the state’s 12 biodiesel plants provide more than 5,000 jobs and the biodiesel industry nation-wide supports more than 62,000 jobs. He also said he never dreamed REG would have eight plants capable of producing a capacity of 250,000 million gallons annually and that the industry would be capable of producing at a rate of 2 billion gallons annually.
“This is certainly a terrific story and we are still a very young industry with lots of growth potential and we are ready to grown” Haer said. “But this is not just terrific story about job creation, economics and a terrific story about those of us who work in the industry. It’s about increased energy security, increased food security increased environmental security for all Americans.”
“With that being the case, why, why would the Environmental Protection Agency, of all the government agencies, do a 180-degree turn on this environmental progress, innovation and job creation?” he asked. “We simply cannot let this proposal stand. It would take our industry backward and not forward.”
According to REG’s website, it employs 21 employees at the Newton plant.
Reynolds speech focused on the economic impact the proposal would have on Iowa and the nation. She said the ethanol industry currently supports more than 383,000 jobs nationwide and more than 62,000 biodiesel jobs.
“That means that over 445,000 Americans depend on these good paying and essential jobs to support their families,” Reynolds said. “This one proposed rule, by the EPA, would directly jeopardize 37,400 ethanol jobs and 7,500 biodiesel jobs. Nearly 45,000 families could face financial hardship and stress based on this one proposal.”
In an interview after the rally, Reynolds re-emphasized how much this would impact Iowa.
“Forty-five thousand jobs, I mean that’s nationally. But 95 percent of the ethanol is produced here, so that’s the bulk of the jobs, right here in Iowa,” she said. “We are one of the bright spots in this nation; we are one of the states with a growing economy. This would have a direct impact on it.”
While a lot of the speeches at the rally took aim at the EPA, both King and Grassley took shots at the White House for its inaction on the matter.
“This flabbergasts me. This decision, this proposal by the EPA, its flabbergasting because after all, I remember Barack Obama coming all over Iowa,” King said. “He launched his campaign here and he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Iowa launching his campaign in the caucuses.
“It was all about renewable energy, the green industry was going to be developed,” he continued. “How could you be all about green industry, when this kind of proposal comes out of the EPA?”
King said he is in support of a fair marketplace for both renewable fuels and the petroleum-based counterparts and that he is “confident” the EPA doesn’t have the legal authority pass this measure. He also pointed out how this measure would decimate the corn market.
“We are going to stand together on this and we are going to tell them keep their hands off of the RFS. That’s our ‘Holy Grail,’”King said.
Grassley followed King and before he spoke on Obama, he pointed out he wished the Wall Street Journal could see the crowd in attendance, so they could see “an army of farmers out here” who are ready to fight for the RFS.
“There’s one person who can make all the difference in the world right now,” Grassley said, “and I believe he can do it without (having) any political purposes or for any other reason, and that is because he said, ‘I am for all of the above. I’m for green energy. I’m for biofuels. I’m for all of these.’”
“And the President of the United States, if he would whisper in the ear of the director of the EPA, ‘I don’t think you’re doing the right thing,’ this would come to a halt right now,” Grassley said.
Grassley went on to say that the renewable fuels industry is “battling ignorance” about its products nationally and the political power of “Big Oil” at work.
“I hope that we get back to the basics,” Grassley said. “Ethanol is good for agriculture, it’s good for farmers, it’s good for small business/Main Street, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for good paying jobs in rural America that we never thought we would have. It’s good for our national defense; it’s good for our balance of trade.
“I’ve never dealt with a product, in my entire life, where everything you talk about it and all the explanation you gave it was all good, good, good,” he continued. “We shouldn’t have to compromise on that whatsoever.”
He went on to point out that farmers were the ones to answer the nation’s needs for alternate fuel sources after the oil embargoes that took place in the ’70s and ’80s.
“We responded to the national emergency and we need to keep growing and all we got to do is make our point.” Grassley said.
Branstad would be the final speaker and compared this rally to the outcry that took place when the International Olympic Committee previously decided to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games.
“We know how to fight when we are attacked,” he said. “The (IOC) backed down and kept wrestling. We can do it. If we can do that with the (IOC), we ought to be able to do the same thing to the EPA.”
Branstad said the campaign against the EPA’s proposal will be a grassroots campaign and his office launched a website: www.protecttherfs.com to combat this.
He and all the other speakers encouraged citizens to leave a comment on the EPA’s website and to visit Branstad’s website to sign the petition against the proposal.
“As you can see real clearly, the EPA’s proposal would be extremely harmful to Iowa,” Branstad said. “To our communities, to our families, to our jobs, to our farmers, to the environment and as Iowans we want good jobs in our state.”
He cited the benefits the renewable fuels industry has brought to the state and called for unity amongst all Iowans.
“We can’t let them turn the clock back on us,” Branstad said. “Tell your family, tell your friends, tell even strangers you meet on the street, tell them to visit our website ... and let the EPA know this proposal is bad for Iowa.
“Bad for our farmers, bad for our families, bad for our environment, bad for our communities and bad policy and they need to reverse it,” he continued. “We’ve just begun to fight.”