JOLIET, Ill. — Defend, expand, export.
Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture, stood on the
floor of a loading bay at The DeLong Co.’s Joliet container facility. Outside,
grain trucks provided a steady hum as they waited in line to dump their loads of
corn and dried distiller grains, outbound for overseas destinations.
The carefully swept floor still bore traces of the granular
golden byproduct of ethanol production, and a hint of freshly baked sugar
cookies, a trademark calling card of DDGS, hung in the chilly late-March air.
To ship dried distiller grains overseas, to unload those
semis and fill the containers, means jobs, 15 of them at the DeLong Joliet
To get dried distiller grains, you have to make ethanol from
corn and the blueprint to do that in the U.S. and to blend that corn alcohol
with gasoline is under attack.
“We need to make sure that people understand this entire
standard is under attack. Folks in Congress, some folks in Congress, would like
to do away totally with the entire Renewable Fuels Standard and have made
proposals to do that,” Vilsack said.
He spoke in answer to a media question about the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals for the Renewable Fuels Standard
that would reduce the amount of ethanol needed to blend with gasoline.
The EPA’s proposal cut the targeted amount of ethanol to be
used in the U.S. fuel supply from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion
gallons. The EPA’s final rule is expected in June.
“They, obviously, have a tough decision to make, and what we
have done at USDA is make sure they are fully informed about that decision,”
He was at DeLong to talk about agricultural exports and the
role that exports, including exports of U.S. biofuels and biofuel byproducts
like DDGS, play in creating jobs in the U.S. and stabilizing farm and rural
Vilsack outlined a three-prong strategy to maintain and
increase biofuels production in the U.S. and continue to support the export
“It’s going to be important for us to defend this standard
against it being eliminated. There are job opportunities created, more
affordable gas and, obviously, stable incomes and reductions in foreign oil
purchases,” he said.
Vilsack relayed some wisdom from his father as he described
the second phase of the strategy.
“In the farm bill that passed, that coalition of congressmen
that I suggested don’t like the RFS slipped in a provision that basically
eliminated our ability to use the REAP program for blender pump funding,”
The REAP program is the USDA’s Rural Energy for America
Program, that provides loans and grants for projects that utilize energy
efficiency and the use of renewable energy.
“My father used to say for every ‘don’t’ there’s an
‘anti-’don’t’ and Congress shut one door, but they didn’t shut all the doors. We
are going to continue to use our business development programs to help expand
access here domestically,” Vilsack said.
He talked about the role that the petroleum industry has
played in discouraging the increased use of ethanol.
“We need to make sure that we do a better job of expanding
opportunities for higher blends to be available in this country. Unfortunately,
the oil industry, Big Oil, has done a very good job of making it much more
difficult for the higher blends that are available for vehicles that can use
those higher blends to get the fuel. They just simply don’t have the fueling
stations and gas stations where E85 and higher blends are available,” he said.
Vilsack also said that American biofuels need to follow
their byproducts overseas.
“The third thing is the international opportunity and
creating additional markets for this industry,” he said.
“We want to defend the RFS, we want to expand opportunity
domestically and we want to make sure we sell this fuel overseas,” he said.