WASHINGTON — Impatience is growing among Midwestern corn farmers and ethanol plants looking for an official announcement of the long-awaited deal to boost biofuels production.
“Would we like it to happen this week? Sure, we’d like it to happen last week,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
At issue is a federal mandate that billions of gallons of ethanol and biodiesel be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, a requirement known as the Renewable Fuel Standard.
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Refineries can petition for waivers to ease the financial burden of complying with the mandate, and the Trump administration has been handing those waivers out at a higher rate than in the past.
Biofuel plants and the farmers who feed them say all those waivers have hammered demand for their products and are plunging many operations into the red.
Bloomberg reported this week that the administration has tentatively agreed to a final plan offsetting the RFS waivers by reallocating lost gallons into future targets.
But ethanol backers have seen those headlines over and over again.
Back in late August, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to say farmers would be happy with what was about to be announced regarding ethanol.
“It will be a giant package, get ready!” Trump tweeted. “At the same time I was able to save the small refineries from certain closing. Great for all!”
What followed was a meeting between Iowa and Nebraska lawmakers and White House officials, a meeting in which the administration came down on the side of ethanol.
But that has resulted in nothing on paper yet — even as ethanol plants are idling production and farmers are preparing to sell their corn at low prices.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, one of those who has been pushing the administration to address the waivers, recently urged the administration to speed it up.
“Harvest is starting,” Ernst tweeted. “Ethanol plant closures have cost thousands of rural jobs and decreased demand for hundreds of millions of bushels of corn. Let’s move forward and get the RFS deal done.”
Shaw also said his advice to Trump is not to let the situation hang much longer.
Farmers will soon be taking harvests to town and either selling corn for depressed prices or paying for storage in hopes of a bounce down the road.
“That’s a painful reminder of how weak the corn market is right now and what some of the causes for that are,” Shaw said. “Timing is of the essence here as harvest cranks up. The more they delay, the more that’s just going to become worse and worse and worse.”
Shaw said he hopes the final deal is what those involved have described publicly — a reallocation of the waived gallons.
“All we’ve asked is for the EPA to follow the law,” Shaw said.
The latest round of 31 waivers delivered an immediate blow to ethanol plants margins that were already less than robust, Shaw said.
While most plants had been operating in the black, he said, the waivers pushed about three-fourths of them into the red. That situation can only continue for so long.
“Every day makes a difference,” Shaw said.