With Lisa Jackson’s recent resignation announcement and upcoming departure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a host of agricultural and energy issues hanging in the wind until her successor is named by President Obama, 2013 promises to be an important year for agriculture states such as Georgia. With the agriculture and energy industries likely to be impacted by issues from ozone and dust rules to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), now more than ever, consumers and businesses across the nation will need to consider what states, such as Georgia, are doing to further their energy policies and contribute to energy supply on a national level.
For instance, Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal, was one of the eight governors who recently petitioned EPA with a request to waive the RFS due to economic harm stemming from this year’s severe drought. The RFS, which was enacted in its current form in 2007, mandates that a minimum quantity of ethanol be blended into gasoline each year – utilizing about 25 percent of U.S. corn for ethanol production. But this year, due to the extreme drought in much of the country, some counts have the amount of corn diverted towards fuel at 40 percent.
In a recent letter, Governor Deal stated that “In addition to the direct economic harm from the drought within the border of our state, Georgia is heavily dependent on grain produced in other states to support its poultry and livestock industries. Severe economic harm is therefore being caused by the applicable volume requirements of the RFS, and a waiver of this requirement is fully justified...” Unfortunately, this waiver request was recently denied, lending a blow to many pork and poultry farmers, cattle ranchers, food manufacturers, and food service providers – which all trickles down to consumers through higher costs.
Despite the recent denial of Governor Deal’s petition, continued discussion on this issue will prove crucial in working out future policy solutions. One such opportunity within the state came from a recent event in December when the Southeast Energy Alliance, a chapter of the Consumer Energy Alliance, hosted the 2012 Southeast Ag-Energy Summit in Atlanta. This summit brought together regional Agriculture Commissioners, Farm Bureaus, Agribusiness Councils, elected officials, energy consumer groups and producers for a discussion about the importance of affordable, reliable energy to the agricultural community, the challenges presented by renewable fuel and electricity, and upcoming legislative priorities for the region.
One of the panels focused its attention on the challenges and opportunities resulting from the RFS. Panelists Charles Hall of the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association and Michael Formica of the National Pork Producers Council both discussed the need for a serious discussion about the viability of the mandate and its impacts on US energy policy and the economic health of the nation. However, regardless of industry, panelists agreed that policymakers should take an honest look at how the program was established, its goals and how best to reform the program so that they are achieved.
In fact, many in the industry are already planning for another round of waiver requests in 2013 – highlighting the need for a creative solution to this RFS dilemma.
With a number of agriculture and energy issues currently before the nation and the state of Georgia, such as the RFS, it is clear that 2013 will be an important year for our policymakers to work together to ensure that the U.S. can produce energy in a safe, responsible manner. As President Obama nominates a new head of the EPA, we look forward to working together with the new Administrator to help ensure a more effective EPA and a brighter future for America's energy consumers.
Director, Southeast Energy Alliance