A presidential spotlight on Wisconsin biofuels

Neal Kemmet
Neal Kemmet, president and general manager at Ace Ethanol in Stanley, Wis.,  shows one of the scrubbers at an ethanol plant, required by the air quality permit issued by the DNR.

President Biden is expected to discuss the farm economy during a trip to Wisconsin this week. It’s an exciting visit that will showcase the state’s leadership in the field and across the broader agricultural supply chain. It’s also a rare opportunity for our state’s leaders to press their case with the White House on policies that could make or break the rural recovery.

Topping that list are ongoing threats to the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which has come under fire from fossil fuel backers, who continue to attack homegrown biofuels made from Wisconsin corn and soybeans.

Recent news reports suggested that oil refiners are making inroads with White House officials. They are pushing President Biden to reverse his repeated promises that this administration would stand behind farm-friendly biofuels like ethanol. The move would not only short-circuit the nation’s progress toward decarbonizing the transportation sector, it would threaten a major pillar of Wisconsin’s farm economy.

Ace Ethanol is just one of nine biofuel plants in Wisconsin. Collectively, we produce nearly 600 million gallons of low-carbon ethanol each year, harnessing the renewable energy from millions of bushels of corn. In Wisconsin alone, our sector generates $4.2 billion in economic activity, supports 19,000 jobs, and drives $982 million in wages.

In contrast, the state produces exactly zero gallons of crude oil. That’s one reason why biofuels are so critical to all Wisconsin families, not just farmers and rural manufacturing workers. Ethanol blends offer higher octane without the toxic additives and save drivers an average of about 22 cents per gallon. Higher blends, like E15 and E85 offer even greater savings, while helping consumers shift to a fuel that reduces carbon emissions by 46 percent or more.

Given ethanol’s vital role in meeting U.S. climate goals, it’s no wonder that rural champions have come out in force against any roll back of the RFS. Earlier this month, Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan was joined by colleagues from across the country in sending a letter to the White House and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding the administration “reject any actions under discussion to exempt oil refiners of their obligations under the RFS and uphold your commitment to combatting climate change and supporting our nation’s farmers."

“Exempting refiners of their obligations to blend biofuel would mean increased reliance on oil and more carbon emissions – a result this country cannot afford if we are to meet our new commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 50 – 52 percent by 2030,” noted the lawmakers. One day later, 20 GOP lawmakers offered a similar warning against oil industry handouts that would “damage our rural economies and harm our local farmers and biofuels producers.”

Hopefully, that’s a message President Biden will hear loud and clear when he lands in Wisconsin. For too long, farmers and biofuel producers have waged an uphill battle against hostile regulators and oil industry misinformation. Under the Biden administration, we now have an opportunity to close that chapter and unleash the full power of America’s agricultural sector to lead the charge against climate change.

President Biden vowed to “promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels.” Rejecting the latest pressure campaign by oil refiners is the first step in keeping that promise.

Neal Kemmet, president and general manager at Ace Ethanol in Stanley, Wisconsin.