Duckworth bolsters Hennepin ethanol plant

Like irate farmers, senator takes issue with waivers granted to large refineries as ‘a free pass to friends’ of President Trump

Sen. Tammy Duckworth backs ethanol workers at Marquis Energy in Hennepin. (Sen. Tammy Duckworth)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth backs ethanol workers at Marquis Energy in Hennepin. (Sen. Tammy Duckworth)

By Ted Cox

The state’s junior U.S. senator toured an ethanol plant in Hennepin Tuesday in a bid to bolster biofuels.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth visited Marquis Energy in Hennepin, midway across the state, just south of Interstate 80, in a show of support for ethanol, a key issue for Illinois corn and soybean farmers.

Duckworth warned of “dangerous dependencies” on foreign energy and said she uses ethanol in her Ford F-150 pickup truck. “I’d rather burn American-grown corn and soybeans in my gas tank than oil from the Middle East,” she added.

Like Illinois farmers, who brought up the issue just last week in Decatur during a visit by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Duckworth objected to the waivers granted refineries from producing ethanol.

While farmers cheered President Trump’s recent decision to allow year-round sales of so-called E-15, gas with 15 percent ethanol, they said the waivers granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency undid the benefit, actually causing ethanol production to drop by 2.6 billion gallons under the Trump administration. Perdue promised action last week, but said only that the president thought the waivers had been “way overdone.”

Duckworth suggested that was no accident. “The Trump administration is hurting our farmers and lying to the American people by abusing hardship waivers that are intended to help small refineries,” she said. Duckworth charged that the Trump administration was giving “a free pass to friends” by granting waivers intended for a handful of small startup refineries to dozens of “large and profitable oil companies like Exxon and Chevron, making them exempt from using the legally required biofuel levels.”

Calling that “unacceptable,” Duckworth said it was “bailing out billion-dollar oil companies at the expense of American farmers.”

Duckworth kept the pressure on with her visit to Hennepin Tuesday. A news release put out by her office noted that “Marquis Energy is the largest dry-mill ethanol facility in the United States,” and the senator was committed to ethanol as a national-security issue.

“We should be doing all that we can to encourage the use of American-made renewable fuel, not increasing our dependence on foreign oil,” Duckworth said. “Expanding the Renewable Fuel Standard is a good way to do this, but instead the Trump administration has continued to bail out billion-dollar oil companies at the expense of American farmers.

“I’m proud of the work Marquis Energy is doing here in Illinois,” she added, “and I’ll keep doing what I can in Washington to support the biofuel industry and our farmers.”

Duckworth has been a consistent supporter of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which her office said “supports a $5 billion biofuel industry in Illinois that employs more than 4,000 people.” She also supported the year-round extension of E-15 sales.

Duckworth has already criticized EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on a number of fronts, including the ethanol waivers. According to her office, she’s urged Wheeler to “stop abusing so-called hardship waivers,” and asked the EPA inspector general to “launch an independent investigation into whether top EPA officials violated the law by inappropriately exempting a number of oil refineries from having to use legally required levels of biofuel, which has driven down prices … to multiyear lows.”