Censky defends EPA RFS rule at Senate Ag hearing

The Hagstrom Report
Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky recently spoke at the Global Ethanol Summit, sponsored by the U.S. Grains Council, Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association.
Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report

At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Oct. 17, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Steve Censky defended the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal announced Oct. 16 on how it ensures that the oil industry uses 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol per year.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., told Censky when she appeared on the radio in Minnesota recently farmers told her they felt the difference between an Oct. 4 White House announcement to resolve conflict over ethanol and the EPA proposal on the calculations “really felt like it was a bait and switch. I know you’ve worked a lot on this so I’ve got to ask you. What’s going on here?”

Censky, who told the Global Ethanol Summit Oct. 16 he believed farmers would be “comfortable” with the plan, said President Donald Trump is “insistent” 15 billion gallons of ethanol be used each year, so he is certain the EPA formula will work.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told Censky, a former CEO of the American Soybean Association, he found EPA’s decision to grant waivers on ethanol use to 31 oil refineries amounted to the president favoring “oil companies over family farmers.”

Brown also said the waivers amounted to a “betrayal” of farmers the same way Trump betrayed U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also noted he wants to make sure the ethanol rule “is done right.” Thune added, “it is important that we follow the law. The law calls for 15 billion gallons.”

Farm leaders and the biofuels industry expected EPA to account for exemptions based on a three-year rolling average of past waivers, but the agency said it will rely on past recommendations from the Energy Department. The rural leaders fear the formula will not work and are livid about the situation.

The Hill reported Oct. 17 Iowa Corn Growers Association Craig Floss said, “No more ‘Iowa nice.’ Now, it’s ‘Iowa pissed.’ ”

During the hearing, Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she doesn’t think the formula used to decide payments under the trade mitigation program is accurate. Stabenow noted cotton farmers in the South got big payments even though cotton prices went up last year.

Stabenow, Brown and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s proposals to change the regulations regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Censky defended the proposals.

Censky said he expects the administration to issue hemp regulations within a few weeks.

He also said USDA will begin a signup for the Conservation Reserve Program in December, a new grasslands program signup early in 2020 and a sign up for a short term soil health program in the spring. ❖