Thune talks ag and energy at the fair

Katherine Grandstrand

Recent changes in Environmental Protection Agency policy regarding biofuel waivers have farmers, fuel producers, environmental advocates and members of U.S. Congress concerned.

A crowd of about 75 gathered in the Clubhouse on the Brown County Fairgrounds on Aug. 15 to listen to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speak about agricultural issues at a meeting of the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee.

“Everybody here knows that this has been a tough year for agriculture,” Thune said. “For lots of reasons, some of which relate to policies and tariffs and trade and that sort of thing; some of its related to weather.”

It was recently announced that the EPA loosened restrictions since President Donald Trump took office; in 2018 alone, 31 refineries were granted waivers from a 2005 law that required refineries to use a percentage of renewable fuels.

The waivers were intended for small refineries that would have been disproportionately affected by the requirements.

“Those are not small refineries,” Thune said of the Trump-era waivers. “There are a lot of big companies that don’t need them.”

Thune said he wasn’t the only member of Congress to worry about the waivers and what they could do to the farm economy.

“It is a loophole that’s got to be shut,” Thune said.

The EPA is using data to determine these waivers from about a decade ago, Thune said.

“The (ethanol) industry has contributed billions of dollars not only to rural South Dakota but across the entire Midwest,” said Mark Schmidt, chairman of the Glacial Lakes Energy board of directors.

He thanked Thune for his support of the industry.

Groton-area farmer Grant Rix asked about oversight of the waivers.

They are granted by the EPA with no involved Congressional surveillance, Thune said, adding that more transparency in the process has been called for.

“It essentially forces them to tell us” about the timing and amount of waivers, Thune said.

The oil company lobby is strong in Washington, D.C., Thune said.

“As soon as we go and talk to the White House about this, they’re right behind us,” Thune said. “We’re trying to grow demand for biofuels in this country.”

In addition to the refinery waivers, tariffs have also been hurting local producers, Thune said.

The House and the Senate are both are in recess in August. Once Congress is back in session, Thune said he hoped the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., take up ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.

There are also agreements in the works with Japan and the European Union, Thune said. The big trade nut to crack, however, will be China.

“That’s the one that ... will be hardest,” Thune said. “They’re going to try to outlast us.”

Bob Rogatz, of Frankfort, speaks with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., before an Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee meeting at the Clubhouse at the Brown County Fairgrounds on Aug. 15. American News photo by Katherine Grandstrand