A group of senators is pushing the incoming Biden-Harris administration to “restore” the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — a program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by requiring oil refineries to blend in a minimum volume of biofuels.
Under the Trump administration, oil refineries were granted numerous waivers for meeting that requirement. Critics argue the waivers ultimately hurt American corn farmers who rely on the ethanol industry.
Illinois Newsroom’s Agriculture Reporter Dana Cronin spoke with Senator Duckworth about the letter and how she thinks agriculture policy will change under the Biden administration.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Dana Cronin: What exactly do you want to see change under this new administration?
Tammy Duckworth: Time and again, the Trump administration worked very hard to undermine the RFS and they really hurt our farmers only to help big oil companies and go against everything that RFS stands for. So what I want to make sure is to make sure that the EPA, for example, rejects any future petitions for the small refinery exemptions that do not meet the necessary standards. I want the EPA to very quickly publish renewable volume obligations so we know exactly what the ethanol volume obligation needs to be and so that we could stick to it. And then I also want them to approve the pending applications that are in right now already for corn kernel fiber ethanol and then update their biofuel emissions modeling to allow these fields to be commercialized. And then, of course, we need to make sure that we include biofuels in our commitment to the Paris Accord. When I spoke with President-elect Biden, I told him, “The first day that you get back after you swear your oath of office and then get sworn in, I hope that you rejoin the Paris Accord.” But as part of that, I want biofuels to be part of our commitment to the Paris Accord.
DC: And why is it important to you that President Biden address that issue so early on in his term?
TD: Well, because I need to make it clear and we need to have that commitment to our agricultural sector that we are going to stick with biofuels. I mean, bottom line, we can’t get to a carbon neutral future without biofuels. We just simply can’t get there. You can’t get there just on solar. You can’t get there just on wind. You can’t get there on any single fuel source. And biofuels are a critical part of that. And by the way, biofuels are purely American, right? It’s American grown, American produced. And so it’s not something that we’re relying for oil from outside of the United States. And so I think it’s really important that biofuels are part of that catalog of fuels that are going to get us to that carbon neutral future. And, of course, it’s going to support our ag sector, which is vital, vital for our national security. I think people think of ag and they just think of food, right? But what I tell people is ag is national security. Ag is just as important for our national security as our tanks and guns and helicopters. A nation that can’t feed itself is not a nation that can lead the free world. And so we need to make sure that we maintain our commitment to ag. And one of the ways to do that is to allow them to do what they do best, which is be very, very inventive, be very, very productive and work and support biofuels, because it’s one of the ways that ag can actually produce and support our country.
DC: I’m curious, Senator Duckworth, how do you see agriculture policy more broadly changing under this new Biden-Harris administration?
TD: I think you’re going to see a real support for family farms and small farms. I think you’re going to see continued support for investments in bringing people back to ag. At the same time, as a commitment that you can count on for biofuels, so that it’s not a year-to-year grant, not a year-to-year tax waiver. That you’re going to know for the next five years or for the next 10 years, we’re going to make a commitment to biofuels and it’s going to be there. And you can you can plan on it and you can make your capital investments necessary for you to be able to grow your operation to produce the necessary biofuels.
Dana is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaHCronin