“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, and we had nothing before us.” No, I am not going to sit here and continue to quote “The Tale of Two Cities”. However, the opening lines of the Charles Dickens classic serve as a great summary of 2019 for the ethanol industry. There were ups and downs, and both of those have the industry looking forward to 2020.
During the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, I had the chance to talk to a few leaders in the ethanol industry. Two big players on the national scene are the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy. Their top leaders were both in Altoona on Thursday and we discussed their view for the year ahead.
Renewable Fuels Association President & CEO Geoff Cooper recapped those best of times and worst of times in 2019.
Small Refinery Exemptions and the plan the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place to “transparently” oversee and reallocate them, was the biggest gut-punch the industry had all year. A deal was struck in the Oval office between the ethanol industry and the EPA, and then the EPA went back on the deal just a few days later. The plan they put in place makes it harder to verify the reallocation of exempted gallons until several months have passed.
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor says the President is the one who will hold the EPA accountable to their word, and that producers need to make sure the White House hears their voices about ethanol.
As we look towards that first signpost for ethanol in 2020, Geoff Cooper and Emily Skor talked about a few different things. For Cooper, it was getting all the details for ethanol and dry distillers’ grains in the Phase One China trade deal. He is looking forward to seeing boats on the water heading for China.
For Skor, it is getting the details on the United States Department of Agriculture’s infrastructure plan. Skor says it is something USDA can deliver for the ethanol industry without the EPA’s involvement. She also talked about later in the spring when we will see if EPA is living up to its word on those pesky small refinery exemptions.
A new year offers a lot of hopefulness and promise for an ethanol industry that had so much to be thankful for in 2019, but also took some blows that it would rather not have. Vigilance is the key, once again, in 2020. The goal is restoring some certainty and strength back into a market where producers have shuddered plants and employees just want to go back to work.