June 11, 2020 / 5:32 PM / 25 days ago

U.S. biofuel group in talks with Biden, Trump campaigns to boost industry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A leading U.S. biofuel trade group said on Thursday it had started conversations with the campaigns of both Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and incumbent Donald Trump to discuss potential policy fixes for the ailing industry.

The discussions come as the coronavirus pandemic crushes demand for ethanol and other biofuels, and as the industry wages a long-running lobbying effort to strengthen government biofuel consumption mandates that it says have been weakened by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency.

The biofuel industry, an important farmbelt constituency, is hoping to use its political clout ahead of the upcoming November election to press its list of demands in Washington.

Renewable Fuels Association President Geoff Cooper, during a call with reporters on Thursday about the state of the ethanol industry, said his group had been in contact with both Biden and Trump’s campaigns.

He did not provide details about those conversations.

During the same call, National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Ross said his group would be in contact with Biden’s campaign as well.

Demand for ethanol, a corn-based product added to gasoline, imploded this spring after stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus kept people off the road.

At the peak of demand destruction, more than 70 of the nation’s roughly 200 ethanol plants were idled while many reduced production rates. Some production has come back online, but more than 40 ethanol plants are still idled, Cooper said.

At the same time, biofuel advocates have sent letters to the Trump administration asking that it upholds a court decision from January that, if applied broadly, would limit the number of waivers the administration grants to oil refiners exempting them from biofuel blending mandates.

The industry claims the waivers hurt ethanol demand, but oil refiners refute that argument.

The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard requires refiners to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel, or buy credits from those that do. Refiners can ask to be exempted from the obligations if they can show that compliance would harm them financially.

The Trump administration has granted far more waivers than in previous years.

“Ultimately, the buck stops in the Oval Office,” Cooper said. “We are appealing directly to the president to intervene here.”

Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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