Opinion: Michigan farmers need consistency

Jim Zook
Zook writes: "Reducing the use of biofuels in our fuel supply hurts farmers, Michigan’s economy and the environment."

On July 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a hearing in Ann Arbor that will help determine the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS is critically important to Michigan’s farm families and to every Michigander that counts on the environmental benefits of this policy. At this hearing, members of the Michigan Corn Growers Association will have time to share their message directly with Acting Administrator Wheeler: We need consistent support for biofuels, and we need an end to secret waivers.

In June, EPA announced its annual proposed renewable volume obligation (RVO) rule under the RFS. The proposal, which calls for the use of 15 billion gallons of ethanol in U.S. fuel should be good news for Michigan farmers. Unfortunately, the EPA failed to commit to actually enforcing this rule.

EPA has continually undermined the intent of the RFS by issuing secret waivers exempting refiners from having to meet their obligation to blend biofuels. In 2016 and 2017, the waivers added up to 2.25 billion fewer gallons of ethanol blended into our fuel. Ultimately, the RVO number is meaningless if EPA continues issuing these exemptions.

Reducing the use of biofuels in our fuel supply hurts farmers, Michigan’s economy and the environment. Michigan is home to five ethanol plants, and the industry supports hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity in our state.

Like any industry, farmers need to be able to plan for the future. Crop farming is a risky business and requires large investments. A large part of that management is knowing how much corn will be used for fuel production. Farmers need certainty that EPA will enforce its own policies on the amount of ethanol called for under the RFS and not grant secret small producer volume waivers that undermine the RFS policy.

These waivers have a substantial impact. Every 1 billion gallons of ethanol production uses 2.1 million harvested corn acres. A loss of 2.5 billion gallons of ethanol in 2016-17 translates to 5.25 million harvested corn acres. To put that in perspective, in 2017 there were 2.2 million acres of corn planted in the entire state of Michigan.

Beyond the impact on Michigan fields and local economies, a reduction in biofuel use hurts the environment. According to the American Lung Association, E85 (fuel with 15 percent ethanol) has been designated a “Clean Air Choice.” Using more ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions in our air and helps replace dangerous carcinogens in our fuel supply.

The choice is clear, using ethanol and biofuels is a win-win. Join me in calling on the EPA to support Michigan farmers and future generations by maintaining a strong RFS rule and ending the secret waivers that hurt farmers and reduce renewable fuel use.

Jim Zook is executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association.