Lord knows that I am no supporter of President Donald Trump, and that I worked hard to help Hillary Clinton win the White House last year. But since I introduced the first-ever ethanol bill in the Mississippi legislature decades ago, I have been a strong supporter of biofuels. I believe in renewables because I support American farmers and other businesses harvesting our natural resources to help diversify our fuel supply while creating jobs and bolstering rural economies.
To be clear, being from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I am also a strong supporter of the petroleum industry. Oil companies in our region employ thousands of workers, which the importance of cannot be understated. Sadly, today, the unemployment rate in my state is a full half percentage point higher than the national average.
Traditionally, the oil companies have resisted ethanol and other biofuels, because they don’t want gas stations offering someone else’s product. I do understand their point of view. But our national leaders, and elected officials across many states, have decided that it is in our nation’s best interest to require oil companies to blend biofuels into the gasoline they sell. Some supporters back renewables to reduce our dependence on oil, others see national security benefits and many – especially those from the Midwest – see the economic benefits of creating stronger markets for commodities like corn, used to make ethanol. I would say my support of ethanol encompasses all of those reasons.
Which brings me to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal law requiring oil companies to blend increasing levels of biofuels into our nation’s fuel supply. The current law passed the Senate by an astounding bipartisan 86-8 vote, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The way the law is written, every year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with looking at various factors – like biofuel supply levels – to determine how many gallons of renewables must be blended by oil companies into the transportation fuel supply. Because the EPA has some flexibility in determining those levels, setting the RFS levels has become a political hot potato for the Agency.
Over the last few years, the greatest opposition to the RFS has come from a handful of petroleum refiners citing the high cost of purchasing RFS compliance credits. This doesn’t hold water though, since refiners only have to buy credits if they refuse to blend biofuels, and plenty of other refiners are doing just fine and making nice profits while supplying the nation with cleaner transportation fuels. The truth is, it is the older and inefficient plants trying to blame their deeper economic problems on the RFS.
While running for president last year, then-candidate Donald Trump came out in support of America’s farmers, ethanol and the RFS. In Iowa, while campaigning for the Republican nomination, he told Iowans that “[t]he EPA should ensure that biofuel … blend levels match the statutory level set by Congress under the [renewable fuel standard].” In other words, the EPA should raise the levels of biofuels in our transportation fuel supply as required by the RFS. Trump’s support of the RFS continued into the general election, and was a big part of the reason Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa and other Midwest states.
Whether Trump’s support for the RFS and ethanol was sincere, or good politics, I cannot say. What I do know is that the most recent media reporting, and what I hear, is that the President is planning on keeping his commitment on the RFS. To me, this is good news because it is both good policy and nice when a politician – even one I don’t support – keeps his word to the voters.
With the drubbing that Republicans took on the most recent Election Day, I suspect that the GOP and the President best keep their promise on the RFS. Voters understand and have long memories, and Midwestern states will surely play a key role in the next few elections for both the White House and Congress.
Ronnie Shows is a Democrat who represented Mississippi’s 4th congressional district from 1999 to 2003.