Op-ed: Biofuel fix could boost farm income, hold down fuel prices


By Missouri Representative Warren Love (R-Osceola)

The Trump administration hasn’t been shy about repealing old and unnecessary regulations. But time is running out to fix one costly Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that pushes up gas prices and limits income for Missouri farmers. The regulation prohibits many gas station operators from offering a lower-cost 15 percent ethanol blend, E15, during the summer driving season from June 1 to September 15.
In Missouri, ethanol is not only a homegrown fuel, it’s a lifeline for the rural communities, where farm income has hit a 12-year low. That’s because biofuels are made from energy-rich crops like corn. They also support rural manufacturing at six Missouri plants producing more than 250 million gallons of ethanol each year.
At a time when more than half of all farm operations aren’t even breaking even, these plants provide a key source of demand for surplus grain. Ethanol production also results in a steady stream of protein-rich animal feed, a co-product of the process, that helps hold down costs for families that operate ranches, including my own.
Of course, fixing EPA regulations won’t just help farmers. More options at the pump mean more competition, and more competition means lower fuel prices. That would be a welcome relief for Missouri families, who are already paying more than $2.70 per gallon – a jump of 57 cents from this time last year, according to AAA. Nationally, gas prices are near $3.00 on average, largely thanks to ongoing manipulation of global oil supplies by Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In contrast, homegrown biofuels are immune to OPEC’s games, which is why lawmakers opened the market to competition under the 13-year old Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). As a result, E15 offers an easy way to save 5 to 10 cents per gallon, but many stations still don’t offer it simply because of costly seasonal restrictions. Still, it’s already available from at least 23 Missouri stations, including most of the Kum & Go locations around Springfield, and more could be on the way if we can cut the red tape.
Fortunately, President Trump recently promised Midwest lawmakers that he would make good on his promise to expand biofuel markets, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue is working on a fix with the EPA. But the summer restrictions have already kicked in and any delay could mean higher prices at the pump and another tough season for Missouri farmers.

The regulation in question is called Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP). It governs how easily a fuel turns to vapor. If E15 were held to the same standard as traditional fuel, which already contains 10 percent ethanol, it would be permitted all year long. But the rules were written decades ago, before higher biofuel blends were available. The EPA could update it today, drive demand for more than 3.9 billion bushels of surplus grains, and give America drivers some relief at the gas pump.
To make it happen, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue must stand strong against special interests entrenched in the EPA, fight for rural families, and deliver on the president’s promise. As the voice for America’s farmers in the Trump White House, he’s the only one who can get this fix over the finish line before summer gas prices spike. In that spirit, I urge my fellow Missouri lawmakers to rally behind the USDA and make sure that those federal regulations don’t stand in the way of economic opportunities across the Midwest.

America is already the world leader in biofuel production and exports. With global oil prices rising, we should be reinforcing that dominance, and Missouri is ready to lead the way.