Iowa ethanol plants produced 500 million fewer gallons last year compared to 2019 as remote work and learning because of the coronavirus caused a steep drop in Americans’ daily travel.
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association said on Thursday that the state’s ethanol plants produced 3.7 billion gallons in 2020, 12% fewer than in 2019. It was the second consecutive year production fell after hitting a record 4.35 billion gallons in 2018, the group said.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported this month that Americans pumped about 13% less fuel in 2020, primarily due to reduced travel tied to the public health emergency. The agency estimates that about 10% of the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains ethanol.
The renewable fuels association also blamed reduced exports due to ongoing global trade disputes and waivers the Trump administration granted oil companies. The waivers allow refiners to avoid a requirement that they blend ethanol and biodiesel into the nation’s fuel supply.
Since 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved nearly 90 small refinery exemptions that the biofuels industry says have eliminated demand for about 4 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration’s last full day in office, the EPA approved three exemptions for oil refiners, action that a Washington appeals court stayed on Thursday.
“What we saw in the final hours of the Trump administration was a disgrace,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a call with reporters Thursday.
Grassley, who also was critical of waivers provided during the Obama administration, said he would work with President Joe Biden on agriculture issues, including supporting biofuels.
“I’m hopeful the new administration will not abuse” the small refinery exemptions, Grassley said.
Iowa is the nation’s largest ethanol and biodiesel producer, tapping the state’s corn and soybean crops to make the renewable fuels. About half of the state’s corn supply is used to make ethanol.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.