RFS Talk Continues at White House

Ethanol, Oil Interests Meet With President Trump

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Ethanol and oil industry representatives met with President Donald Trump on Thursday to talk about the Renewable Fuel Standard. (DTN file photo by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Oil and ethanol interests, and members of Congress, met at the White House on Thursday, but according to one source, the meeting did not necessarily move the ball closer to the goal of finding common ground on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Another source with knowledge of the meeting told DTN that President Donald Trump acknowledged that allowing E15 sales year-round would help reduce the price of renewable identification numbers, or RINs.

According to information provided to DTN by corn industry representatives, the meeting went well for the ethanol industry.

Sources told DTN that the president came away from the latest meeting with a better understanding of how E15 could be part of a fix for concerns about RIN prices. In addition, the president indicated he may be interested in another RFS meeting next week.

However, there continues to be concern among corn growers that the biofuels industry would need to give something in return. Near the end of the meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, offered a two-year cap on RIN prices as a possible solution.

The head of the nation's largest corn-ethanol producer company expressed frustration at Cruz's efforts to change the RFS.

In a statement to DTN following the meeting with Trump, members of his cabinet, members of Congress and others, POET LLC CEO Jeff Broin said the meeting featured more of the same from Cruz, who has pointed to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of Philadelphia Energy Solutions as a reason for reforming the RFS.

"It's clear from this conversation that another refinery bailout is more important to Sen. Cruz and the EPA than the economic crisis facing Midwest voters at the moment," Broin said. "Nothing new was discussed in this meeting. Removing accountability from oil companies would deprive millions of Americans the freedom to choose less-expensive, homegrown biofuels and imperil countless jobs and family farms across America's heartland."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was one of four senators in the closed-door meeting. He said in a statement Thursday that both sides made their case, and the "only agreement" was to continue to examine studies on the effects of potential RFS changes.

"No decisions were made," Grassley said. "Low corn prices are already squeezing farmers' bottom lines. If the RFS were undermined with a RIN price cap or waiver, that would be made even worse. Thousands of jobs in rural America could be lost. An emerging solution appears to be year-round E15, which would drive down RIN prices."

American Coalition for Ethanol Board member, and president and CEO of Absolute Energy Rick Schwarck, and Iowa gasoline retailer Charlie Good, took part in the meeting.

ACE CEO Brian Jennings said they told the president about the importance of allowing year-round E15 sales.

"They explained how RVP (Reid vapor pressure) relief for E15 would immediately reduce RIN prices, but also conveyed that capping RINs would destroy demand for renewable fuels and raise pump prices for consumers," Jennings said in a statement.

Sheetz Executive Vice President Mike Lorenz, the owner of the convenience store chain who attended the White House meeting, said he pressed on E15.

"Retailers want to offer our customers options, including lower-cost, higher-octane ethanol blends," he said in a statement. "An RVP waiver lifts needless regulations on retailers, generates growth opportunities for American farmers, and makes more RINs available to refiners."

According to a White House Press pool report, Cruz and Grassley were joined by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Also in attendance were a number of oil and biofuel company representatives. That includes Broin, Lorenz, Good, Schwarck; Todd Becker, CEO of Omaha-based Green Plains Renewable Energy; Joe Gorder, CEO of Valero; Randy Howard, CEO of Ames, Iowa-based biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group Inc.; Mike Irmen, director of ethanol marketing and risk Management for The Andersons Inc.; Thomas Nimbley, CEO of PBF Energy; Ryan O'Callaghan, president of the United Steelworkers Local 10-1; Jeff Warmann, CEO of Monroe Energy; and Bill Horan, West Iowa Energy.

PBF Energy CEO Nimbley said in a statement to DTN that the president indicated a need to continue the discussion.

"It is hugely important to our national security and a reliable gasoline supply to have modest reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standard that can protect hardworking union jobs in the Northeast and across the country," he said. "We will continue to work with the president, senators and all stakeholders that can provide important reforms that are a win for farmers and a win for union refinery workers."

The Fueling American Jobs Coalition is a self-described group of "union workers, mom-and-pop gas station owners, small retailers and independent American oil refiners" formed to push for RFS reform.

The group said in a statement on Thursday, "Members of the Fueling American Jobs Coalition are pleased with the progress being made by the president, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Pat Toomey in working to resolve problems associated with implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard. The president's leadership, coupled with that of Sens. Cruz and Toomey, and the active participation of Sens. Ernst and Grassley, holds the clear promise of a more rational RFS program that benefits biofuel production and refining."

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said her group appreciates the president's willingness to listen to the ethanol industry's concerns.

"The president very clearly understands that the path forward is to allow sales of E15 year-round, promote growth and put more RINs on the market," she said in a statement to DTN.

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said in a statement, "We continue to believe the appropriate response to unfounded concerns about renewable identification number prices is to expand ethanol use by providing RVP parity, allowing E15 and higher blends to be sold year-round. We are pleased today's conversation focused positive attention on this important issue."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley