By Sen. John Thune
Many people outside of the Corn Belt likely don’t realize it, but South Dakota farmers don’t just help feed the United States, they help fuel it too. Farmers play a critical role in our nation’s energy supply and security, and their effort was recently boosted by the administration’s announcement that it would allow the sale of E15 fuel (15 percent ethanol-blended fuel) year-round. That might not sound like a big deal, but its importance can’t be overstated.
Year-round E15 sales is a win for consumers and our economy (more options and lower costs). It’s a win for the environment (cleaner fuel). It’s a win for our nation’s energy security (reduces dependence on foreign countries). And it’s a huge win for our nation’s agriculture industry (stronger commodity market).
To break this win-win-win-win down even further, the ability to sell E15 year-round means more ethanol can be sold each year. That’s obvious, I know, but more ethanol being sold means there will be a greater demand for it to be produced. A greater demand means a stronger, more vibrant ethanol industry, which already supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs and contributes tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. And ethanol producers couldn’t do what they do without the farmers who grow the corn in the first place.
For farmers, year-round E15 means a shot in the arm when the agriculture economy continues to lag behind the broader economy – and I’m focused like a laser on fixing that – but in the near term, producers who are sitting on surplus corn from last year, or are looking to this year and beyond, the demand for and value of their product has been strengthened.
I’ve been following this issue for more than a decade. It was in 2007 when I first started actively and relentlessly advocating for a waiver process that would allow for higher blends of ethanol in the United States. I spent the entirety of the Obama administration pushing the EPA to make these adjustments, and while I wish this had been approved sooner, it’s definitely better late than never and something for which the current administration should be applauded.
For consumers, the most immediate effect of this decision will be more options at the pump – oftentimes cheaper options too. It will help keep fuel costs down, which, especially during the summer traveling season, means less money is being taken out of the family budget. For station owners, it provides greater incentive to sell E15 since they no longer have to waste time or money changing pump labels in the fall.
There’s no doubt this is a big victory for folks throughout the country, but it doesn’t mean all of the hurdles have been overcome. The year-round sale of E15 is great, but I will continue to keep pressure on the administration, as I’ve done in the past, to halt its practice of granting small refiners an exemption to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires a certain level of fuel to contain renewables like ethanol. These exemptions reduce the demand for ethanol, and I believe they should only be used in rare and clearly defined cases, which isn’t what’s happening today.
In South Dakota alone, nearly one out of every two rows of corn is used to produced ethanol – half of the state’s entire crop. Agriculture is already the state’s top industry, and with pro-growth policies that create more choices and greater demand in the field and at the pump, it’s only going to get stronger.