Supporters of the renewable fuels industry turned out en masse on Thursday, desperate for the U.S. government to change course after last month announcing a plan to lower the amount of biofuels that must be added to the fuel supply in 2014.
About 300 people attended a public meeting held by the Environmental Protection Agency on the Renewable Fuel Standard, proposed changes which have become one of the most divisive policy issues of the year.
The number of stakeholders who signed up to testify – almost 150 - was 10 times or more the count at a similar meeting a year ago, an EPA official said.
Robert Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, estimated that more than 100 of the speakers scheduled to testify were in favor of preserving the renewable fuel standard.
The meeting comes nearly three weeks after the Obama administration proposed slashing how much renewable fuel —mostly corn-based ethanol — needs to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply, bowing to pressure from the petroleum industry.
Speakers ranged from representatives of the biofuels industry and petroleum refiners to anti-hunger groups, bakers, small-engine manufacturers, lawmakers and the governor of Iowa, the largest U.S. corn-producing state.
A panel of five EPA rulemakers — including Chris Grundler, director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality — listened intently as groups of five to six speakers came up in succession to state their positions.
A Plea From Iowa
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad passionately defended the ethanol mandate, warning that reducing the quota would have an "unbelievable negative ripple effect all through rural America," and even tipping the Corn Belt into crisis.
"The EPA is now caving in to the demands of Big Oil, who has always resisted renewable fuels - from the very beginning," said Branstad, flanked by five Iowa farmers and biofuel producers, all wearing "Don't Mess With the RFS" buttons.
Small-scale biofuel producers at the hearing said they felt betrayed by the EPA's decision to lower the mandate, after having invested in their plants on the assumption that the level of usage would continue to grow.
"We need a viable market with a future," said Bob Morton, who owns a small biodiesel plant in Rhode Island.
Branstad and other Iowa representatives would meet with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy on Thursday, an aide said. Branstad also requested a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Thursday's sprawling event, scheduled to last 12 hours, shows the intense interest in the future of biofuels and caps a year of fierce lobbying that has raged in Washington between pro- and anti-ethanol interests.