As the year comes to a close, Congress finally coalesced behind another round of stimulus in response to the coronavirus pandemic, totaling approximately $900 billion in spending across a variety of sectors. The package includes $11.2 billion in relief to be distributed by the Office of the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), giving incoming nominee Tom Vilsack discretion to provide support to biofuel producers. Specifically, the legislation states the Secretary “may make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuels with market losses due to COVID-19.” American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings released the following statement in response:
“Securing relief for ethanol producers suffering historic economic losses from the coronavirus pandemic has been our most urgent priority in 2020. While we have been urging Congress to include specific authority requiring USDA to make relief payments to biofuel producers, we are nevertheless grateful this package gives USDA the discretion to provide economic assistance to our industry.
“Congress gave USDA flexibility to provide relief for biofuel producers in the last stimulus package, but USDA declined to exercise it. That is why job one in 2021 will be to work with incoming USDA Secretary Vilsack, upon his confirmation in the U.S. Senate, to get assistance to the industry in rapid fashion.
“We long sought to create momentum in Congress for the fuel and fuel feedstock reimbursement programs proposed earlier this year by Senators Grassley and Klobuchar, and Congressman Peterson, which would have made direct assistance certain, but we anticipate Secretary Vilsack will be receptive to working with us on relief payments. Given the fact oil companies received relief from the Trump administration outside of Congress, we expect the Biden administration to step up and help biofuel producers.
“Ethanol producers have acted as an economic bridge for U.S. farmers when they purchased corn before the extent of the pandemic was known. Ethanol plants have also played a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 by producing a higher grade of alcohol for hand sanitizer and disinfectants, as well as capturing the CO2 needed to make the dry ice which has recently helped distribute vaccines to combat the coronavirus. In the first week of December, consumption of both gasoline and ethanol fell to their lowest points since May, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Gasoline and ethanol consumption will likely be down from pre-pandemic levels for some time and the decrease in ethanol demand has caused plants to idle or permanently close across rural communities. These plants cannot continue the multifaceted work they do shuttered — we urge USDA to recognize this and help keep their doors open.”