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For Trump loyalist Rep. Jim Hagedorn, ethanol rules pose a challenge

Rep. Jim Hagedorn
MinnPost file photo by Walker Orenstein
Rep. Jim Hagedorn is a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump. But he also represents the region in the state hurt most by the Trump administration’s ethanol exemptions.

In August, Corn Plus, one of the oldest biofuel plants in the state of Minnesota, closed. Forty employees lost their jobs. The reasons for a slump in the biofuels industry are many, but one stands out: a Trump administration policy allowing a substantial number of gasoline refineries to skip blending biofuels into their product.

The blending exemptions are a vexing problem for Rep. Jim Hagedorn from Minnesota’s First District. Hagedorn is a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump. But he also represents the region in the state hurt most by the Trump administration’s ethanol exemptions. There are two biodiesel and 11 ethanol plants across southern Minnesota, and many farmers there grow the corn and soybeans commonly converted to biofuels.

Billions of gallons short

Support for biofuels is something that most elected officials in Minnesota have gotten behind in one way or another. Biofuel advocates thought the Trump administration was on board as well, at least for a short time. In May, the administration ended a summertime ban on the use of E15, a blend of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol.

But that brief moment of goodwill was cut short because of a much larger problem for the industry: Small Refinery Exemption (SRE) wavers, biofuel exemptions issued to gas refineries with demonstrable “disproportionate economic hardship.”

soybean harvest
REUTERS/Roberto Samora
There are two biodiesel and 11 ethanol plants across southern Minnesota, and many farmers there grow the corn and soybeans commonly converted to biofuels.
The biofuels industry says that the EPA has been too lax in its definition of hardship. Since 2016, the EPA under President Trump has granted over 85 Small Refinery Exemption (SRE) waivers. The previous administration granted only 23 exemptions over the prior three years.

The substantial number of SRE waivers have allowed oil and gas refineries, even large refineries like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, to avoid placing the mandated amount of biofuel in their gasoline. Minnesota’s biofuel refineries, soybean producers, and corn producers say this is economically disastrous for the region, drastically reducing national reliance on biofuels and cutting into already an industry already hurt by trade war with China.

On October 4th, a deal resolving the biofuel industry’s problem with the exemptions was supposed to be sealed: the Trump Administration’s EPA said it would revise the standards for the number of SRE waivers that can be issued in 2020.

But those plans, at least for the moment, aren’t being followed through on. Instead, the EPA, in the rulemaking process, proposed language that has left refineries and crop producers uneasy. The EPA is supposed to ensure 15 billion gallons of biofuel are placed into the gasoline supply. But under the exemptions, this hasn’t happened: it’s looked more like 11-billion gallons. Industry leaders are worried that the EPA’s proposed language is not specific enough to assuage their concerns about again not meeting the mandate.

Sen. Chuck Grassley
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Sen. Chuck Grassley
“Our number one ask to the president and, we’ll continue to do that, is to make sure that that that 15 billion gallons means 15 billion,” said Kevin Paap, the President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, as well as a soybean and corn farmer from Southern Minnesota. “And I think, you know, hopefully his message to EPA has been: ‘Let’s make sure this happens.’”

In an interview with Iowa Public Television, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley seemed visibly annoyed: “I shouldn’t have to go back to the president and say anymore,” he said. “If the President and the people advising him say we have a deal, we have a deal.”

Hagedorn is a member of the House Biofuels Caucus. He is also a cosponsor of the Renewable Fuel Standard Integrity Act of 2019, a bill drafted by Agriculture Chair Rep. Collin Peterson to publicly make available who is receiving small refinery waivers and impose an annual deadline to submit petitions for SRE’s.

“I expect the EPA to uphold the president’s promise made on October 4, 2019, to rural America and to implement the Congress’s intent on the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Hagedorn wrote in a recent letter to the EPA. “I write to you today in frustration. In the last three years, waivers granted to refineries by your agency have eliminated four billion gallons of ethanol.”

Awaiting new rules

A letter signed onto by 60 organizations, including Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Association, was sent to the White House directly in early November: “Mr. President, we share a common vision regarding the RFS. We want to reopen biofuel plants and restore demand for America’s farm products … The [EPA’s] proposal — as written — will not provide the relief we believe you are seeking.”

The EPA plans to publish their finalized plan for 2020 biofuel blending requirements imminently. Industry leaders like Paap are watching closely. He intends to ensure, if he can, nothing less than strict guidelines that keep the mandate at 15 billion gallons.

“That’s the deal farmers built plants on. That’s the deal farmers invested in. And, we’re continuing to worry about those weighed gallons, and the fact that they really need to be reallocated,” Paap said.

When asked if Hagedorn believes President Trump could do more to push the EPA to uphold their end of the bargain, Hagedorn did not offer an answer. Instead, he said much of what he has said before: he has repeatedly told the USDA, the EPA, and even the White House that they need to follow through with the president’s promise: “I look forward to seeing a final RFS rule in the coming weeks that is good for ethanol, biodiesel, corn farmers and our rural way of life.”

Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hess on 12/10/2019 - 10:30 am.

    Hagedorn would probably be a happier Trump soldier if he moved to a district that mined coal or did a lot of fracking.

  2. Submitted by Phyllis Kahn on 12/10/2019 - 11:04 am.

    When will they learn that Trump is a consummate liar?

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 12/10/2019 - 01:59 pm.

      Liars come in all shapes, sizes political affiliations.

      • Submitted by Joel Stegner on 12/11/2019 - 03:39 am.

        You are saying everyone lies. However a consummate liar lies a lot more – In case of Trump’s public pronouncements more than 20 times a day. This does include any lies Trump may have told the wife about not having sex with Ms. Horseface.

    • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 12/15/2019 - 11:45 am.

      Jim Hagedorn isn’t going to learn that lesson for a long time, if ever. He’s the ultimate Trump lackey, and he’s already alienated quite a lot of people down here in the First District. He promised to visit every county in the district, but he’s nowhere near having kept that promise; as it is, his town halls are not well-publicized in advance, except to Republicans and select members of the media, so they’re poorly attended except by Trump-talking bobbleheads. He squeaked to victory in 2018 by 1,311 votes – after polls showed him leading by 25 points in early September – and is headed for a rematch against Dan Feehan in 2020. Bottom line: while Trump may still be somewhat popular in southern Minnesota farm country, he’s likely not popular enough to save Hagedorn’s bacon.

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/10/2019 - 11:06 am.

    Everything about ethanol as a fuel is terrible. Shut this industry down.

  4. Submitted by Alan Muller on 12/10/2019 - 11:20 am.

    Of course trump is screwing over the farmers who voted for him.

    But the bigger issue, not really discussed here, is whether there are sound reasons to subsidize corn ethanol by requiring it to be blended into motor gasoline. The objective answer to that is probably NO. Certainly the inpacts on air and water quality in Minnesota have been severe.

    Not even trump can be wrong all the time.

  5. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 12/10/2019 - 11:56 am.

    The biofuel industry is, and has been, a net loss. A “few” have made a “lot” of money from this boondoggle. It really is time to shut it down.

  6. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 12/10/2019 - 12:00 pm.

    Grassley should certainly know by now that it’s impossible to depend on Trump – period.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 12/10/2019 - 12:05 pm.

    When you vote your conscience, there are no challenges.

    Hagedorn simply needs to decide whether he considers ethanol additives to be an overall good or not. If he concludes their benefits outweigh their costs, including indirect subsidies, then he should vote to support the subsidies. If not, he should vote against them.

    Trump be damned.

  8. Submitted by T.W. Day on 12/10/2019 - 12:05 pm.

    Ethanol is just one more corporate welfare program. The industry bends over backwards not to discuss its negative energy contribution (BTU in > BTU out). If the rural areas want to support Trump and cling to 1950’s whiteness, they should pay the price.

    • Submitted by Joel Stegner on 12/11/2019 - 03:44 am.

      Cling to 50s whiteness. Have you were there recently. If you are going to put people down, try to get your facts straight!

    • Submitted by Diggitt McLaughlin on 12/14/2019 - 01:32 pm.

      It’s increasingly hard for anyone new to get a foothold in our farmland, no matter their skin color. Unless, of course, they are filthy rich. No small farmers need apply.

  9. Submitted by Alan Straka on 12/10/2019 - 12:15 pm.

    Ethanol is just a boon to big ag. It was supposed to lessen air pollution but, in reality, does no such thing:
    It also damages engines:
    The other reason for using ethanol is that it stretched our fuel supply and made us less dependent on imports.That argument is now meaningless:

  10. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/10/2019 - 12:48 pm.

    When I see a picture of Tom Hagedorn, political courage is not the first thing that comes to mind.

    He is the essence of “Swamp”:

    A career DC creature from childhood, linked to MN through Daddy’s congressional service.

    A career totally built on family connections. If his Dad ran a bowling alley, Tom would be spraying disinfectant into shoes today.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 12/10/2019 - 01:57 pm.

      So what about the other side of the political aisle when it comes to following in a parent’s footsteps when seeking political office? Its just fine and dandy?

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/10/2019 - 02:53 pm.

        Not at all.

        WikiPedia gives us over 1000 political dynasty families. Some great, some marginal, some Hagedorn….

      • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 12/15/2019 - 12:29 pm.

        Jim Hagedorn did try to follow Dad’s footsteps into Congress. Nothing wrong with that, really – unless you insist that you’re entitled to free shoes, courtesy of the voters. After four tries, Jim finally stepped into Congress. But loafers don’t wear well, and heels are never very popular. This year, voters seem ready for a different style and a better fit for the First District, and to give Hagedorn the boot.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 12/10/2019 - 02:12 pm.

      OK, that last sentence made me laugh out loud!!

  11. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/10/2019 - 06:02 pm.

    Don Trump has virtually no need to fear losing farmers’ votes anymore than he needs to fear losing evangelicals’ votes.

    White farmers are too worried about plastic bag bans & Somalis in MPLS than they are about going broke.

  12. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/11/2019 - 08:51 am.

    When will the left admit – based on science – that ethanal is bad for the environment?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/11/2019 - 10:07 am.

      Is that what is driving Rep. Hagedorn? Is he secretly a tree-hugging environmentalist?

      Or is he just another one of Trump’s congressional toadies, too afraid of his wrath to represent his constituents?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/11/2019 - 10:17 am.

      Whoa there…

      Go back and read the earlier posts: You will see that the more left leaning posters here all agreed on ethanol problems with the environment.

      Farmers are the primary constituency for these subsidies. Trump voting farmers. Chuck Grassley loyal famers.

      And as clearly and accurately expressed above:

      “Don Trump has virtually no need to fear losing farmers’ votes anymore than he needs to fear losing evangelicals’ votes.

      White farmers are too worried about plastic bag bans & Somalis in MPLS than they are about going broke.”

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/11/2019 - 10:44 am.

      I have been “admitting” it for many years.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/13/2019 - 09:39 am.

      Ethanal (also known as acetaldehyde) is very different from ethanol (also known as booze). I definitely don’t recommend drinking ethanal, at least not before transforming it to acetic acid (also known as vinegar, once diluted).

      And, for what it’s worth, ethanol COULD be good for the environment, but we’re doing it all wrong.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/11/2019 - 08:54 am.

    This is what happens when you send a bunch anti-environmentalists in to clean up a swamp. You get the worse swamp cleaners in history and dirtier swamps.

    And of course the champions of personal responsibility always respond to any example of their own corruption or incompetence by demanding we examine someone else’s corruption or incompetence instead. And if they can’t find examples they’ll manufacture them. Anything to avoid accountability.

    I agree with Pat Terry, this is an industry that just needs to end. It’s bad farming policy, it’s bad energy policy, and bad environmental policy. The “product” isn’t good fuel, it’s harmful to engines, and not particularly “green”. It’s also been a huge blow to water supplies and water tables around the State.

    And of course it’s yet another subsidy for rural folk who demand to be recognized as rugged independents under attack by urban “takers” with inferior values. They don’t deserve whatever they get from Trump simply because they voted for him- they deserve whatever they get from Trump because they continue to support his divisive and toxic attacks on fellow Americans.

    Ordinarily no matter who the president is I tend to sympathize with Farmers and rural folk and concern myself with their well being. However, since they’ve launched this rural/urban divide campaign and opened a new front in the “culture war” I’m not inclined to be concerned. I don’t have to like you or agree with you to take an interest in your well being… but if you attack me and try to harm my community or people I care about… I can walk away.

  14. Submitted by William Duncan on 12/11/2019 - 10:23 am.

    Aside from the prevalence of GMO Glyphosate ready Corn exterminating pollinators, polluted soil and water, and soil loss, the energy return on corn biodiesel is about 1/1 or less, which means it takes as much or more energy to make corn biodiesel as you get out of using it as fuel.

    In other words, corn ethanol is a terribly destructive force against nature and a subsidy boondoggle.

    Now that it is legal, hemp would be a far greater commodity product than corn, but somehow 100 years of lies about hemp/cannabis hold a greater sway over many people and gov officials than the damage to nature corn does and the bottomless subsidy dumpster that is corn biofuel.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/11/2019 - 11:39 am.

      I suspect that the opposition to hemp will vanish once Cargill, ADM, et al. adopt ways to monetize it. Sure, those ways already exist, but it will take Big Ag’s enthusiastic embrace to make things happen.

      • Submitted by William Duncan on 12/12/2019 - 09:27 am.

        I suspect they have not embraced it yet because they are trying to balance the boot-on-neck attitude of old with the free market attitude of the day. America spent so long demonizing it, those who did can’t just turn on the proverbial dime and reap big profits. That looks bad. Particularly when law enforcement still wants to use cannabis as a pretext for asset forfeiture/budget balancing.

        Probably too they are trying to figure out how to maintain the prison pipeline and maximize profits. That will be a challenge, but then hypocrisy is so deeply embedded in society now, corporations are more or less free to do as they please as long as the return to investors is steady, so I suppose anything is possible.

  15. Submitted by John Hottinger on 12/28/2019 - 10:48 pm.

    It’s hard to justify massive subsidies to ethanol because of the wasteful inefficiency from an energy standpoint. If we feel the need to subsidize producers, let’s do so with a subsidized marketplace that encourages farmers (not corporate farms) to produce, lowers food prices for low-income people by subsidies and celebrate the productive farmers in a sliding scale way that gives them a return on their investment but not a windfall of high-subsidies for ag corporations.

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