It feels like we are reporting a broken record over the past few months and years. The ethanol industry is hurting. Iowa’s jobs, families, and communities are being negatively affected. While there are a lot of loud voices in Washington that are speaking on behalf of the industry, it seems that little is changing. Whether it is demand destruction, trade, or COVID-19; the industry needs help and it needs that help now.
On Thursday, I spoke with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) about the ethanol industry’s need for help and stability, and what was being done about getting them the help they needed. On Tuesday, the Senator sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler a letter asking him to live up to the commitments he has made to the industry, and not followed through on. She cited the work that had been accomplished, such as year-round E-15. However, there were commitments to removing barriers to E-15.
Senator Ernst explained the details on what labeling issues there are. She is saying the warning labels that are still on pumps across the country are misleading to consumers and need to be changed.
Beyond those commitments from last year, the ethanol industry is in desperate need of assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Ernst talks about efforts in the Senate to make that happen in the latest round of aid that Senate Republicans have proposed. The “Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools”, or “HEALS Act” calls on $20 billion in aid to the agriculture sector. The ethanol industry would be eligible for this assistance but would have to compete for it against other Ag processors.
The Senator says the challenge of getting any support for the biofuels industry lies with her oil state colleagues. Ernst says she is working to package biofuels relief in with other ag relief so that it can gain the overall support of these opponents.
Senator Ernst said there was no timetable as to the future of the HEALS Act in the Senate. Many in agriculture have come out and said that the bill does not do enough. Most recently, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said the bill “falls short of meeting the food and agriculture community.” Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is the Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee and she says that without any nutrition assistance, the bill is a “non-starter.”