PUTNAM COUNTY — “The Renewable Fuel Standard was designed to increase the use of clean, renewable biofuels and generate grain demand for farmers.” wrote POET Chairman and CEO, Jeff Broin in a recent press release.

“Our industry invested billions of dollars based on the belief that oil could not restrict access to the market and EPA would stand behind the intent of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Unfortunately, the oil industry is manipulating the EPA and is now using the RFS to destroy demand for biofuels, reducing the price of commodities and gutting rural economies in the process.”

“The RFS authorizes small refinery exemptions (SREs) for refiners that (1) process less than 75,000 barrels of petroleum a day and (2) demonstrate ‘disproportionate economic hardship,’ ” POET’s release continues. “Over the past two years, the EPA has issued waivers to refineries owned by ExxonMobil, Chevron, and other large oil companies - none of which are small and none of which have economic hardship.”

“So far, the EPA has cut biofuels demand by 4 billion gallons and reduced demand for corn by 1.4 billion bushels, causing severe damage in rural America.”

This figure is disputed by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association that represents, in part, the interests of refineries. In a blog post published in late August, the association used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showing that the year-over-year cumulative consumption of ethanol in the U.S. from January through May has steadily increased, and has not, in fact, declined.

While true, this also ignores an announcement made by President Trump last October during a rally held in Iowa. At that time, Trump said that E15 gasoline, which contains 15% ethanol, would be allowed to be sold year-round for the first time. Previously, summer sales were not allowed. While the USEIA figures used by AFPM addressed earlier months, it was understandable for ethanol producers to expect an increase this summer following the Trump Administration’s announcement last fall.

“This is exactly what rural America needs right now, and we’re thankful that President Trump is following through on his promise to the Midwest,” Ken Miceli, Plant Manager for POET in Leipsic wrote in an email last October. “E15 creates American demand for American crops. It’s permanent, and it costs us nothing.”

There is, however, a cost associated with increasing the ethanol blend in gasoline to 15%, as explained by Jamal Kheiry, Corporate Communications with Marathon Petroleum Corporation.

“Because higher blends also require different tanks and pumps, and other forms of infrastructure to accommodate that,” Mr. Kheiry says. “Because the chemical properties of ethanol are different than for straight gasoline.”

Mr. Kheiry also insisted that the issue is not a he said-she said situation, saying, “In terms of Marathon Petroleum in particular…We are significant producer, blender, and retailer of biofuels. Because we have interests in ethanol production plants in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. And, we have a biodiesel production facility in Cincinnati as well.”

When contacting POET regarding any possible slowdown at its Leipsic facility, Carla English, Director of Public Relations for the company, would not comment on that plant specifically, but did say, “Ohio is one of the states that was impacted most significantly and saw our largest drop in production.”