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Ethanol advocates: Targeting mandate threatens energy security
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Ethanol advocates: Targeting mandate threatens energy security

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Ethanol advocate Jeff Broin portrays the latest attempt to eliminate the federal renewable fuels mandate as “big oil trying to throw a Hail Mary.”

Four members of the U.S. House of Representatives, two Republicans and two Democrats, announced plans to introduce the Renewable Fuels Standard Reform Act at a Wednesday news conference.

It would do away with a requirement to produce 15 billion gallons of grain-based renewable fuel per year and also thwart efforts to upgrade 10 percent ethanol blends to 15 percent.

Broin, of Poet LLC based in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the nation’s largest ethanol company, condemned the bill before it left the legislative launch pad.

Broin said it is a threat to energy security and to the transition from corn-based ethanol to advanced biofuels made from cornstalks and other sources of biomass.

“We won’t succeed if big oil is successful in eliminating the renewable fuels standard,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

While he and others speaking on behalf of Growth Energy, a Washington trade group, characterized purported reforms as an attack by the oil industry, the list of organizations that had endorsed a proposal crafted by Sen. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and bipartisan peers by the end of the day suggested otherwise.

Among those praising the bill were the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers, American Bakers Association, National Grocers Association, National Restaurant Association, Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth.

Craig Uden, a Nebraska cattle feeder in Elwood, represented the National Cattlemen point of view.

“Cattlemen and women are self-reliant,” he said in prepared remarks, “but in order to maintain that we can’t be asked to compete with federal mandates like the Renewable Fuels Standard for the limited supply of feed grains.”

Uden cited the worst drought in 50 years and widespread financial losses in cattle-feeding ranks.

Nebraska typically ranks second in cattle on feed nationally and also in ethanol production. That puts the state in a conflicted position in endorsing federal agricultural and energy policy.

Todd Sneller of the Nebraska Ethanol Board said the names of the organizations signing onto alleged energy reform deserve a closer look.

Those who take that second look will find “agenda-driven lobbyist groups” and federal lawmakers doing the bidding of Tyson and other giants of red meat and poultry processing, Sneller said.

“That seems very clear to me.”

Broin said many smaller cattle and hog feeders, who make money from both livestock and grain production, see ethanol as a contributor to their income prospects and distillers grain as a valuable feed source sold by ethanol plants.

Critics from much larger livestock operations preferred earlier farm policy in which cash corn prices were low and heavily subsidized.

“I’m sure they’d like the government to pay for half of their input costs,” Broin said.

The latest clash between ethanol friends and foes comes at a time when ethanol plants are struggling with cash flows and E15 has been slow to respond to 2012 regulative clearance from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sneller knew of only three retail locations in Nebraska where it was available for sale.

Among the possible hindrances:

The EPA nod applies only to vehicles made since the 2000 model year. And, because of vapor-pressure restrictions in place in Nebraska and other northern-tier states, stations can’t offer it for sale between May 1 and Sept. 1.

Having to take it out of the product mix for four months every year “makes it a tough sell,” Sneller said.

Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com

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