Congress has returned to Washington for the month of July following the Independence Day break, with a busy docket before the upcoming district work period in August. Lawmakers have been turning their attention to farm bill reauthorization and the annual appropriations process, with the September 30 deadline for both fast approaching.
NFU continues to advocate for a farm bill that prioritizes creating fair and competitive agricultural markets. We recently met with the Biden-Harris Administration on our farm bill competition priorities along with other key farm, food, and competition stakeholders. NFU has also been engaging the administration on key developments regarding biofuels’ infrastructure and updates to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
NFU PARTICIPATES IN WHITE HOUSE, USDA COMPETITION ROUNDTABLE
On July 13, NFU President Rob Larew participated in a meeting hosted by the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss competition priorities in the 2023 Farm Bill. Larew joined 15 other food and agriculture organizations for a listening session with senior White House staff and USDA officials to discuss the need for more competition in agricultural markets.
During the session, participants shared their perspectives on how consolidation harms producers and raises prices for American consumers. The groups expressed support for legislative action to strengthen and diversify supply chains and protect farmers and ranchers from anticompetitive conduct, while acknowledging recent progress that has been made by the Biden-Harris Administration.
In 2021, NFU launched its Fairness for Farmers campaign to address the monopoly crisis in agriculture and the food system. The Biden-Harris Administration has made promoting competition in the American economy a top priority, and NFU’s Fairness for Farmers campaign has provided a key platform for farmers to share their stories and to highlight reforms needed to create more competitive agricultural markets.
Following the meeting, NFU President Larew issued the following statement:
“We need a farm bill that prioritizes fair and competitive markets. Today’s meeting shows the continued commitment from this administration on competition in the agricultural economy and the need for this issue to be addressed in the 2023 Farm Bill. Our Fairness for Farmers campaign has been sounding the alarm on monopolies and consolidation across the food and agriculture industry and this meeting is a sign that we’re being heard by the President and other decision makers. We’re going to keep fighting for fairness and are happy to have growing bipartisan support in this fight.”
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has created a Farmer Fairness website, a confidential and secure portal that allows producers to file complaints or tips for violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act. USDA has also ramped up interagency collaboration with the Department of Justice and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to create a more competitive and resilient meat and poultry supply chain. USDA is currently developing rules to strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act to increase transparency and protect family farmers and ranchers from anticompetitive practices.
NFU looks forward to continuing to work with USDA to build fairer and more competitive markets and is working to include a competition title in the next farm bill.
NFU CONCERNED WITH EPA TAILPIPE EMISSIONS RULE
In mid-April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a regulatory proposal to aggressively slash tailpipe pollution and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. If finalized as proposed, EPA expects EVs to account for up to 67 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales and 46 percent of new medium-duty vehicle sales by 2032. This surpasses President Biden’s previous goal to have all-electric cars make up approximately 50 percent of vehicles sold by 2030.
NFU’s engagement on this proposed rule has been extensive. In a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, NFU joined seven national associations representing the full spectrum of the renewable fuel supply chain, expressing concern the proposed rule favors electric vehicles (EVs) while failing to consider the decarbonization potential of existing biofuels that can improve the emissions profile of the vast majority of cars on the road today.
The letter recommends EPA account for all emissions relating to different fuel and engine technologies and equitably incentivize emissions reductions from those technologies. NFU and partners support the agency’s goal of reducing over-the-road transportation emissions but are concerned the agency’s proposed standards “artificially tilt the scale towards electric vehicles,” while ignoring other available fuel and vehicle options that can help decarbonize the transportation sector more rapidly and at a lower cost.
The groups also noted the proposed rule exceeds the scope of the agency’s statutory authority, which does not include establishing greenhouse gas emissions’ standards that effectively mandate EVs. NFU has urged EPA to recognize the role renewable liquid fuels, such as ethanol, can contribute to meaningfully reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Biofuels and other renewables, if prioritized, can increase market opportunities for farmers, maximize the climate benefits of liquid fuels, build resiliency across the energy sector, and reduce energy and fuel costs.
NFU’s own comments echo the concerns expressed in the letter, but emphasize the short- and long-term benefits and their compatibility with a large number of vehicles on the road today, offering immediate emissions benefits on a much larger scale than a market-wide transition to new vehicles. NFU President Larew also testified before EPA back in May, urging the agency to promote higher-level blends and recognize the role ethanol can play in the transition to low-pollutant vehicles.
BIOFUELS INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS, 2023-2025 RFS VOLUMES
NFU recently applauded the Biden Administration for the recent investments into biofuels’ infrastructure. On June 26, USDA announced the first round of funding awarded from the Inflation Reduction Act for the Higher Blend Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP), with 59 infrastructure projects across 15 states receiving $25 million to support gas stations and distribution facilities. These funds are aimed at upgrading infrastructure to make biofuels more widely available.
The grants will help gas stations install, retrofit, or upgrade fuel pumps and storage tanks to deliver ethanol blends greater than 10 percent and biodiesel blends greater than 20 percent. In July, USDA plans to begin accepting new applications for $450 million more in HBIIP grants. The funding will be distributed in $90 million increments each quarter.
According to USDA, approximately $67.5 million of those announcements will be headed to transportation fueling facilities, $18 million will go to fuel distribution facilities, and up to $4.5 million will go to home heating oil distribution facilities.
The funding announcement follows the EPA’s final rule to establish blending volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The EPA has finalized volume requirements and associated percentage standards for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel (BBD), advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel under for 2023–2025. The final rule lowers the volume requirements for corn ethanol and advanced biofuels from the levels in the proposed rule, which was released in December 2022.
EPA’s final numbers show a 250-million-gallon reduction in total corn-ethanol volumes for 2024 and 2025 from the original proposal, setting those volumes at 15 billion gallons for both years. In addition, EPA set the corn-ethanol volumes at 15.25 billion gallons for 2023.
NFU’s statement on the EPA announcement notes while the modest increases in the biodiesel and renewable diesel volumes mark a step in the right direction, the final rule represents a missed opportunity to expand the production and sale of low-carbon fuel and reduce prices at the gas pump.
NFU continues to be a strong supporter of higher-level blends of ethanol, which can contribute to a green energy transition and provide economic opportunities to rural communities.