Local farmers respond to Trump’s ethanol decision

Published 9:10 pm Friday, October 12, 2018

President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the flow of ethanol into the fuel market is drawing support from local farmers.

The change allows for year-round sales of gasoline blends with up to 15 percent ethanol. Gasoline typically contains 10 percent ethanol.

Prior to the move, the EPA banned the high-ethanol blend from June 1 to Sept. 15 because of concerns it contributes to smog on hot days, a claim ethanol industry advocates said is unfounded.

The move is considered a boon for Iowa and other farm states that have pushed for greater sales of the corn-based fuel.

Joseph Greibrok, a corn farmer south of Oakland near the Mower-Freeborn County line, called the move “a step in the right direction.”

“It will be good for us farmers, and hopefully people start understanding that renewable fuel is good for our community,” he said.

Greibrok said the move will help farmers get rid of corn surpluses brought about by increasing efficiency, bringing much-needed increases in corn prices and a reduction in dirtier fuels.

He said low corn prices have caused him financial stress, and the situation has left farmers scrambling on how to save money on seeds and reducing the revenue of local machinery dealerships.

Greibrok said he does not understand smog concerns, stating dirtier forms of fuel cause more pollution. He believes ethanol is receiving an undeserved “black eye.”

He said the fuel source reduces the country’s fuel dependence on countries sometimes hostile to the United States.

Freeborn County farmer Ryan Hajek expressed support for the move, calling alternative fuels “a good source of renewable energy.”

He expects the move to increase corn prices and revenue on farms as farmers fight increasing input costs.

Hajek said the country is at a “breakeven point right now with the way prices are, and if we can help bring the prices up a little bit, hopefully that can help.”

He said the move is good for the country, saying it plays into growing corn, a U.S. strength.

Hajek said large oil companies fought against the change because it took away from their market share.

In May, Republican senators, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, announced a tentative agreement with the White House to allow year-round E15 sales, but the EPA did not propose a formal rule change.

Lifting the summer ban is expected to be coupled with new restrictions on trading biofuel credits that underpin the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly known as the ethanol mandate.

The law sets out how much corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels refiners must blend into gasoline each year.

The oil industry opposes year-round sales of E15, warning that high-ethanol gasoline can damage car engines and fuel systems. Some car makers have warned against high-ethanol blends, although the EPA has approved use of E15 in all light-duty vehicles built before 2001.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, many from oil-producing states, sent Trump a letter last week opposing expanded sales of high-ethanol gas. The lawmakers called the approach “misguided” and said it would do nothing to protect refinery jobs and “could hurt millions of consumers whose vehicles and equipment are not compatible with higher-ethanol blended gasoline.”

The letter was signed by 16 Republicans and four Democrats, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key Trump ally. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, whose state includes several refineries, also signed the letter.

Clarks Grove farmer Jerry Demmer said the E15 blend is cleaner than oil.

“E15 is going to be cheaper, is so far cheaper than E10,” he said.

Michelle Miller, who farms with her family east of Geneva, said though she has not done a lot of research into the plan, “it’s fantastic.”

“We have a surplus of corn and need to use it,” she said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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