House OKs infrastructure bill; ethanol supporters upset with EPA

Many eyes have been on Washington as Congress passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Concerns also have been expressed over renewable fuels and what policies should be as one entity is poised to sue if necessary to make sure the ethanol pipeline continues.

The infrastructure bill had been held up since summer in the House as a dispute between moderate and progressive Democrats unfolded. Progressives wanted to see a companion Build Back Better Act also approved. The Senate approved a bipartisan bill but the larger $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act was not likely to receive any Republican support. The two wings of the Democratic Party are struggling to find a compromise.

The House of Representatives voted 228 to 206 on Nov. 5 to approve the bipartisan infrastructure package, which the Senate passed in August by a vote of 69 to 30.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes funding important to corn growers, including $17.3 billion for the nation’s ports and inland waterways and $2 billion specifically for rural broadband access, according to the National Corn Growers Association. New spending in the bill is paid for through unused COVID-19 relief funds, bonds and extensions of various government fees, and the bill does not include tax increases for individuals or farms, the associated noted.

“We are pleased to see the House act on this legislation which was developed in a bipartisan manner and allocates funding for initiatives that are extremely important to corn growers and rural America,” said NCGA President Chris Edgington in a news release. “This is a once in a generation infrastructure investment that will help farmers for years to come.”

As 60% of corn exports move on the inland waterways system, the maintenance of that system is vital for the global competitiveness of U.S. farmers, he said, adding the funds dedicated to providing broadband access specifically for rural areas will be meaningful for corn growers who rely on this access for marketing crops, using precision technologies and running their business.

Iowa Democrat Rep. Cindy Axne voted to send a bipartisan infrastructure package, one that is projected to create more than 770,000 jobs by 2025 and bring more than $5,000,000,000 in infrastructure investments to Iowa, to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would create thousands of Iowa jobs through five years of investments in high-speed internet connectivity, public transportation, clean drinking water, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure priorities, she said in a statement posted on her website.

Kevin Scott, soybean farmer from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president, said in a statement, “Good things can indeed come to those who wait, and passage of this long-considered bill is a win for everyone in our country. Infrastructure is critical to the long-term success of not only the ag industry, but also the general health of American commerce and global competitiveness. We are very appreciative that our congressional leaders stayed the course on this important package that will bolster the U.S. economy, and which encompasses so many priorities for soy, ranging from surface transportation and waterways funding to investments in rural broadband and new opportunities for soy-based products.”

The package increases much-needed funding for roads and bridges, including targeted funding for rural areas; accounts for freight rail and inland waterways funding; has provisions to address truck driver shortages, including hours-of-service changes; supports a new pilot program to highlight the benefits of biobased construction materials, like soy-based concrete sealant; and addresses critical rural broadband issues.

Soybeans and other agriculture commodities rely on a multimodal network including truck, rail and waterways. The current supply chain challenges underscore the importance of reliable infrastructure, which impacts competitiveness at both the farm level and on the global stage.

Renewable fuels

One organization that represents producers and supporters of ethanol feels the government has not been responsive to helping consumers who need agriculture’s boost to lower fuel costs.

On Nov. 2, Growth Energy submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency a notice of intent to sue regarding its failure to timely fulfill the agency’s statutory obligation under the Renewable Fuel Standard to issue the 2022 Renewable Volume Obligation and in turn, the potentially multi-year “set” rulemaking process for renewable fuel volumes for 2023 and beyond. The RVOs for 2022 are due by Nov. 30, an annual deadline set by Congress in the RFS. EPA has not issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish those obligations. Additionally, the final “set” rulemaking was due on Nov. 1, and EPA has not issued a notice of proposed rulemaking for that, either. Growth Energy’s notice gives EPA 60 days to issue the 2022 RVO and the set rulemakings before risking a lawsuit in federal court.

“With surging fuel costs and rising emissions, we cannot afford to hold back lower-cost, lower carbon biofuels with needless regulatory uncertainty,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor in a news release. “It is critical for EPA to issue these RVOs as soon as possible and map out the RFS ‘set’ for 2023 and beyond. EPA would be missing a critical opportunity to address our climate challenge, provide consumers with continued lower-carbon choices at the pump, and contribute to the rural recovery.”

Each year through 2022, EPA is required to issue a rulemaking establishing the percentage of renewable fuel (the “renewable volume obligation” or “RVO”) that obligated refiners and importers must blend to ensure that annual renewable fuel volume requirements established by statute are met. Failure to issue RVOs on time undermines the RFS by eliminating prospective, market-forcing blending obligations, and by creating uncertainty in the market for obligated parties and renewable fuels producers alike.

For 2023 and later, EPA, in coordination with the Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is required to set these renewable fuel volume requirements through one or more rulemakings, taking into consideration six statutory factors, including environmental, economic, and energy security factors. EPA is required to set volume requirements at least 14 months prior to the calendar year in which they are to take effect. In addition, EPA is constrained by statute to ensure that, for each year starting in 2023, the volume of advanced renewable fuel is at least the same percentage as the volume of the total renewable fuel requirement established in 2022.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].

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