Food producers push for EPA waiver on ethanol

A deluge of comments from food producers, specifically employees of Tyson Foods, have poured into the federal government in recent days as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers whether to waive regulations that may affect grain prices.

The governors of North Carolina and Arkansas have requested that the EPA waive a requirement that refineries produce or buy biofuels as a proportion of their total output. Some of these are  derived from plants that are also used as animal feed. Corn-based ethanol, which is blended into gasoline, was the target of the much of the criticism.

The have argued that food producers have encountered undue hardship because the regulations add demand for crops at a time when widespread drought has affected growers and limited supply, therefore driving up costs.

The agency was accepting comments on the possibility of a waiver for the Renewable Fuel Standard until Thursday.

“The declining outlook for this year’s corn crop and accelerating prices for corn and other grains are having a severe economic impact on the state, particularly on our poultry and cattle sectors,” wrote Gov. Mike Beane, of Arkansas, where Tyson Foods is based. “While the drought may have triggered the price spike in corn, an underlying cause is the federal policy mandating ever-increasing amounts of corn for fuel.”

Tyson employees echoed those statements in emails and online comments submitted to regulations.gov by Thursday, while others argued that the Renewable Fuel Standard should not be waived because it subsidizes  an industry that offers environmental benefits.

“This action is appropriate and necessary given the severe drought impacting the U.S. corn crop and the sharply lower corn yields that are now anticipated,” wrote James Ronfeldt, a Tyson employee. “We can no longer burn our food supply.”

“It is difficult for companies to operate in this environment, and we have seen a tremendous
impact on the poultry industry,” added another Tyson employee, Ken Willis.

Biotech company Novozymes argued that a waiver is “unwarranted and will not bring the solutions and relief the petitioners are seeking, while causing certain harm to the biofuels and agriculture industries, the workers who drive them -– and the clear economic and energy security benefits they are generating for our country.”

Novozymes said it has invested more than $200 million “in bioenergy based on demand from RFS” and that a waiver would put its investments and associated jobs at risk.

The EPA previously considered a waiver request for the RFS when it was submitted by Texas in 2008, with support from other states. The agency denied the request because the state did not illustrate how the requirements were damaging its economy.

According to the law, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson can grant a partial or complete waiver of the fuel mandate, “if implementation of those requirements would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, a region, or the United States, or if the Administrator determines that there is inadequate domestic supply of renewable fuel.”