She calls on Trump to fix ethanol exemptions
HENNEPIN — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth toured the Marquis Energy ethanol plant in Hennepin Tuesday and called on the Trump administration, along with her fellow senators, to take action to stop the bleeding in the U.S. ethanol industry.
Duckworth's visit, which included a tour of the plant with Mark Marquis, CEO of Marquis Energy, focused attention on the issue of small refinery exemptions.
Those exemptions have been granted in large numbers to major oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron, under the Trump administration, prompting claims from the ethanol industry and farm groups of abuse of the refinery exemption program.
"Bailing out billion-dollar oil companies at the expense of American farmers goes against the goals of the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) and it hurts the Midwest," Duckworth said after her tour.
In June, Duckworth and a bipartisan group of her fellow senators introduced the RFS Integrity Act. The bill would make the small refinery exemption application process viewable to the public.
"We will actually know who is applying for them, why they are getting the exemption and how large of an exemption," Duckworth said.
Duckworth said she is working on getting co-sponsors for the bill and hopes to move it out of committee, but she voiced concerns that it could be held up from a full Senate vote.
"Everything depends on Mitch McConnell and whether it comes to the floor for a vote, and it's highly unlikely that he would allow that to progress, but I am going to continue to work on that and also to find a House companion as well," Duckworth said.
After the announcement in mid-August that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had granted another round of refinery exemptions, 31 in all, Marquis Energy announced that it was cutting production at its Necedah, Wis., ethanol plant.
Mark Marquis said the Hennepin plant continues to run at its full, 100-million-gallon capacity. The Hennepin plant was built in 2007 and uses 130 million bushels of corn a year, producing a million gallons of ethanol every day and about 3,000 tons of dried distiller grains, a byproduct of ethanol production, which is used as livestock feed.
"Our plant here at Hennepin is one of the most efficient in the world, and we are still running this plant at full rate. There are a lot of plants that have reduced their run rate because of the profitability situation that is all tied back to these small refinery exemptions," Marquis said.
In his view, Marquis said, the best solution to help ethanol producers and farmers who supply corn to the plants would be to reallocate the gallons lost in the small refinery exemptions.
Last week, President Trump announced via his Twitter account that he had a major announcement coming regarding the ethanol issue.
"I'm a little bit concerned about this supposed announcement that's going to come out is not going to reallocate those gallons back into blending ethanol, that there are going to be some infrastructure programs and some flex-fuel vehicle programs that really won't have any immediate help for the ethanol industry," Marquis said.
Marquis added that the exemption issue and the continuing exemptions could put a crimp in rural support for Trump as the 2020 election season nears.
"I was a Trump supporter from day one. I thought maybe a business guy could fix some of the things with the economy, and I think he's done that to some degree, created more jobs and a good economy. With regard to supporting agriculture, I think we feel like we have been let down a little," Marquis said.
He said he hopes that farmers and other elected officials, including House members, speak up as well.
"I think our corn grower friends are going to have to talk to their representatives and the message is going to have to get to the White House that if you are planning on having farmers on your side in 2020, it's got to be different than it is now because this isn't working," Marquis said.
Note to readers: Jeannine Otto is a field editor with Illinois Agri-News, based in La Salle. Follow her on Twitter @AgNews_Otto.