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Ethanol producers hope to benefit from record high mandate for production from EPA

The POET bioprocessing plant in Macon, Missouri. Ethanol producers will be making a record amount of the fuel this year, thanks to EPA mandates.
POET Biorefining
The POET bioprocessing plant in Macon, Missouri. Ethanol producers will be making a record amount of the fuel this year, thanks to EPA mandates.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set its corn ethanol mandate at its highest level ever, and with gas prices skyrocketing, biofuels supporters say it’s a good move for consumers.

While the EPA decision was promoted as an effort to “reset and strengthen” the Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA administrator Michael Regan said there are other benefits.

“We are laser-focused on providing more options for consumers at the pump, and today we are taking steps to increase the availability of homegrown biofuels,” Regan said. “These actions will help to reduce our reliance on oil and put the Renewable Fuel Standard program back on track after years of challenges and mismanagement.”

Regan is referring to moves by the Trump administration, including a series of exemptions given to small refineries that allowed them to not comply with RFS standards.

The new EPA mandate canceled those exemption requests.

“These exemptions have never been justified and were simply being used to illegally undermine the RFS. We are grateful this long nightmare is over,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuel Association.

Ethanol is currently almost $2 a gallon cheaper than gasoline, so increasing production of the additive can reduce the price of fuel.

“It certainly has given us an opportunity to underscore the economic benefits of using ethanol,” said Geoff Cooper, CEO of the Missouri-based Renewable Fuels Association. “We’ve got a long track record of being a lower-cost alternative to gasoline.”

High gas prices fueled by inflation and the war in Ukraine also have biofuels advocates making arguments for energy independence.

“We need to do everything we can to increase and bolster our energy security by really doubling down on the production of domestic energy sources, especially including biofuels,” Cooper said.

Ethanol critics say the price argument is misleading, because cars using gas with ethanol get slightly fewer miles per gallon, and ethanol can do more damage to car parts over the long term.

They also argue it does little to help the U.S. meet its own energy needs.

“The 2022 standard is bewildering and contrary to the Administration’s claims to be doing everything in their power to provide relief to consumers,” said American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers CEO Chet Thompson in a statement. “Unachievable mandates will needlessly raise fuel production costs and further threaten the viability of U.S. small refineries, both at the expense of consumers.”

The new mandate was not exclusive to ethanol made from corn.

The EPA also increased the mandate on so-called advanced biofuels, such as ethanol made from grasses and woody plants. Nearly 3 billion gallons of that fuel will be used as gas additives this year.

Yet the market for biofuels made from crops other than corn and soybeans have been slow to develop, as farmers are hesitant to switch from the crops that can also be used for animal feed.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest including St. Louis Public Radio. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @harvestpm

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.