November 28, 2014

U.S. Ag boss uncommitted on federal mandate for ethanol

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack isn’t taking a firm stand on whether the nation’s Renewable Fuels Standard should be put on hold because of the drought.

The mandate helps create a market for corn-based ethanol and other bio-fuels by requiring refiners to blend them into gasoline.

Nebraska is the nation’s #2¬†ethanol producer behind only Iowa.

Critics who are worried about a lack of corn for food and livestock feed have called for suspending the mandate. Vilsack, a former Iowa Governor, says the standard remains vital for rural economies.

“It’s really important that we do everything we can in the long run to preserve the renewable fuel standard,” Vilsack says. “Whether adjustments have to be made, that’s going to have to be made by EPA, but we certainly do not want to undercut the confidence that we currently have in the renewable fuel standard and the important role it’s playing.”

Vilsack says abandoning the standard may not be necessary – or helpful.

“You have to take a look at the overall impact of all on all,” Vilsack says, “not just simply an aspect of the economy but the entire economy. You’ve got 400,000 folks employed directly or indirectly in the renewable fuel industry, you’ve got momentum building in that industry and you’ve got to reduce reliance on foreign oil.”

Nebraska has 24 plants operating with a capacity of more than 2-billion gallons a year and consuming 700-million bushels of corn.

Ethanol is responsible for about 1,200 jobs in Nebraska. About 40% of the nation’s corn crop currently goes to ethanol.