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Farmers Over an Ethanol Barrel: We Aren’t Going to Walk the Plank - Special Feature

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Special feature from Doug Sombke
President, Farmers Union Enterprises

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Doug Sombke
It’s time for farmers to teach the ethanol industry leaders how to chew gum and walk – or walk the plank. Despite hundreds of millions spent to “save the RFS” (Renewable Fuels Standard) based on a E15-only mantra, it has fallen on deaf ears. It’s time they play another card to move beyond the RFS. (#SafeGasoline).

Why would the ethanol industry not ask President Trump to simply direct his EPA to enforce Section 202l of the Clean Air Act to “reduce mobile air source toxics to the maximum extent achievable”? In doing so it could triple the demand for ethanol. Then there would be no need to worry about corn for China because ethanol production would double and the trade balance would correct. The president would pump billions of dollars into rural economies and remove billions of tons of toxic carcinogens from gasoline out of our cites. But they won’t. Are they afraid the oil industry will try and kill the RFS or restrict ethanol blending to 15%?

Why would the ethanol industry only ask the President for, and be satisfied with, a status quo 15 billion gallon ethanol industry regardless of how much E15 might be used. Because the ethanol industry will be ok – farmers won’t. This is not the time for the ethanol industry to pull up the life rope up behind them and leave the destiny of farmers in a sinking, rudderless RFS boat. The U.S. fuel ethanol program was created for farmers – not the ethanol industry. The RFS was created because of the problems with crude oil and gasoline. Why are farmers not at the White House negotiation table discussing the deal that will affect their future for generations?

Apple did not capture the market and hearts of consumers with a one-trick pony computer-only strategy. It’s time for farmer’s voices to be heard and control their destiny, in light of what has been a stalled failed ethanol industry growth plan. If the ethanol industry won’t, then the farmers must turn President Trump’s pen into a high-octane weapon of mass construction (#DearMrPresident). Farmers have placed the President in a position to define his legacy. Will it be 100 RON Trump’s de MON! or 100 RON or Dump Don! The answer lies in the pending Safe Affordable Fuel Economy (SAFE) Rule.

Farmers do not issue presidential pardons. So goes Iowa – so goes the nation. It’s time for the farming community to teach the ethanol industry leadership - chew gum and walk – or walk the plank. The RFS was a huge success because American ingenuity responded to the bi-partisan Daschle Dole RFS and eventually President Bush’s call to action by doubling the production of the highest-octane, lowest-carbon and least-expensive renewable fuel available in the world (#EthanolFactBook). So why would farmers leave the next 15 billion gallons of ethanol that could be used to meet a high-octane standard in the field unplowed. We’ve seen the commercial a thousand times – why settle for less? Even Forbes gets it now!

Why would Bush, the former Governor of Texas love ethanol? Because, not for lack of trying, many of his policies were on a sinking ship too. President Bush freed the gasoline market allowing industry to provide fuels cheaper, faster, and better than the carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbon octane enhancers they replaced. Then farmers helped to re-elect him. The only loser was big oil. But they never lose, they just give the check to the consumer. Big oil is not writing checks to the President’s campaign either – and this would be the best way for them to pay for that too.

The farming and ethanol industries achieved what the oil industry could not do with their $400+ billion per year in subsidies. Unlike tobacco companies big oil does not have to cover the cost of health effects of their product either – much less the $81 billion taxpayers spend each year to protect the free flow of oil. That’s 58 cents per gallon federal defense subsidy.

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It took health and environmental advocates 70 years to remove lead – and big oil fought them the same way big tobacco did. Ethanol is not a dirty word; #gasolinegate is. The “Contains 10% Ethanol” label is on every gasoline pump because it is proven to work. Lawn mowers still mow, motorboats still motor, and chainsaws still saw – just like in Brazil – except their president figured out how to use 27 percent ethanol.
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Why would the U.S. ethanol market not want to climb to at least 27%? Are they financially conflicted? The American farmer isn’t, farmers are financially constricted when markets are closed to them and should not be dependent on the ethanol industry to set their ag policy.

Our national energy laboratories confirmed that renewable ethanol’s octane is superior to aromatics refiners use for octane in terms of performance, price, and pollution reduction. To make matters better, academia and the medical communities have proven air pollution is costing Americans billions in health care (#WhatsInOurGasolineIsKillingUs) and half of that air pollution comes from transportation. So why do you think the media and consumers know a lot about what’s supposedly, or allegedly wrong with ethanol yet consumers don’t know Jack about what’s in their gasoline?

The EPA didn’t recently jump ship on ethanol. They have never been on board. The ethanol industry has failed to get them to do their job in 25 years. Now the president can help both do their job. The result would be helping refiners and automakers by providing them with less expensive higher-octane alternatives to crude oil. The pollution reduction and lives saved are simply a Presidential signing bonus.

By law, it’s the government’s job to protect the security and health of all citizens. The Clean Air Act and Energy Security Act says the government shall reduce harmful pollution and the nation’s reliance on oil. By law, our government must ensure that competitive markets can flourish and that monopolies are disrupted. Like the tobacco, non-action is about negligence in the face of knowledge and covering or cooking the books on the evidence. The tobacco lawsuit was about knowing and not taking corrective action.

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President Trump has the ability to save his fellow Americans from being held hostage to a costly and deadly gasoline monopoly. Demanding the EPA enforce the law would protect the unborn, the most susceptible citizens which are children and the elderly. Nearly half of all Americans live in a high-pollution, high-traffic, and high-populist voting district. The outcome is a healthier and more productive federal government and American that spends less on healthcare. The signing bonus is everyone else is paying less for a better performing fuel.

Our President has the opportunity to help auto manufacturers lower cost vehicles that emit less carbon and toxics, while getting more miles per gallon with a lower cost fuel. The nation’s farm sector could generate enormous new wealth. The U.S. trade deficit could shrink by billions of dollars annually. Millions of acres of corn could sequester billions of tons of carbon. Urban toxic emissions could be reduced by fifty percent or more. Who would not want to save taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars annually in reduced health costs and premature mortalities, the ethanol industry?

All of these urgent priorities could be realized with a stroke of the President’s pen (#Politico op ed) because Congress already acted. For 25 years a handful of unelected EPA bureaucrats defied Congress - and now the President? Not if he hasn’t demanded they do it. By colluding with oil interests to manipulate testing data and cover up the public health threat from gasoline emissions (here’s the emails between EPA and Big Oil). It’s not Trump’s fault. It hasn’t mattered who was in the White House, regulators in the Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) have defied the will of Congress and violated their oath to protect the public health and welfare (#gasolinegate). Where’s the ethanol industry’s outrage?

It’s time for ethanol’s tail to stop wagging agriculture’s dog. It’s way past time for the ethanol industry and OTAQ to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. Our preference is to get the hell out of the way. The President can empower America’s farmers to protect America’s cities. The risk is low, and the economic reward is high. America’s 270 million light duty vehicles consume roughly 140 billion gallons of gasoline and 25-30 percent are toxic carcinogenic octane enhancers that can be replaced by renewable biofuels. American consumers own the world’s largest gasoline market and they should demand the EPA protect it (#EPA Safe Gasoline Petition).

Out of one hand, consumers needlessly pay more for high octane premium fuels because automakers need it to pass EPA’s emission and mileage tests. Yet slipping through the other hand, the EPA won’t support the way to reduce that by allowing the single legal lowest-carbon, lowest-cost and highest-octane additive commercially available – that won’t exceed toxic limits set forth in the Clean Air Act. Where’s the ethanol industry outrage?

If the President can’t make his decision based on saving lives, then let’s show him the money. America still imports 25 percent of its oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). China won’t take our corn – let’s not give them our gasoline. Maybe it’s time for a Houston Tea Party.

If you go to the Houston Tea Party make sure you don’t get in the water – it’s still recovering from a “spill” of 9,000 barrels of a gasoline “ingredient.” That ingredient was reformate. Reforming is an oil refining operation that produces reformate, a high-octane gasoline blending component – that accounts for 30% of gasoline - has a higher price and lower octane value compared to ethanol. To add insult to market injury, those refiners the EPA gave economic hardship waivers are importing higher-cost, higher-carbon carcinogenic octane enhancers too. That’s not economic hardship, that’s economic nonsense.

The question of how best to address environmental challenges has increasingly become a partisan flashpoint. So, when there is a green light on a green bipartisan solution, don’t stop. Like President Bush before him, wielding the presidential pen would help this President’s economic, rural development, energy, environmental, trade, and health policy. The recent It's time to take another look at biofuels article by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and former Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.) and Chairman of the UN Foundation, shows how both parties can agree on the public health benefits of higher-octane, higher-volume ethanol blends. So where’s the ethanol industry? Now its President Trump’s turn to get everyone on board and safely off ethanol’s sinking RFS future. What does he have to lose: Iowa?