December 1, 2015

Iowans react to EPA final rule on renewable fuels use

gas-pumpThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its final targets for using renewable fuels in the next two years under what’s called the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The final numbers released today for biodiesel and ethanol are below the original numbers called for in the law.

The ethanol numbers especially do not please Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director Monte Shaw. “The statute was very clear that in ’15 and ’16 the number was supposed to be 15 billion gallons. And they did not have in our view a legal justification for reducing those numbers under the law,” Shaw says. “They came up with a very convoluted — in my opinion — reasoning on why they had that justification.”

The EPA is calling for use of just more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol for 2015 and 14.5 billion gallons for 2016. Shaw says the EPA used the mythical “blend wall” or maximum amount of ethanol that can be used in the place of gasoline to justify its lowering of the RFS levels.

“They unfortunately adopted the oil company’s way of thinking in that. And really when you do that, what you ‘ve done is you’ve taken the whole purpose of the RFS and you’ve turned it upside down,” Shaw says. “The purpose for the RFS was to get these renewable fuels in front of consumers so the consumers could make choices. And what the EPA essentially said today is: ‘well oil companies aren’t letting consumers have access to these fuels, so we can’t raise the number’.”

Shaw says the ruling goes against everything that was intended in setting the levels for renewable fuels. “You know, this was supposed to be for free markets and consumer choice. Instead we are left with a near monopoly on our gasoline supply by the oil industry. Very, very disappointing,” according to Shaw.

He expects everyone in the renewable fuels industry to read the final ruling and then to take action. “I think there’s a strong likelihood that you will see legal action to try to reign in EPA and how they ignored the statute, and even legislative intent,” Shaw says.

Shaw says if it goes to court it will be a one to two year process “and in the mean time this is what we have to live with.” Iowa is the nation’s leader in renewable fuels production. Iowa has 43 ethanol refineries capable of producing three-point-nine billion gallons of ethanol annually. Iowa also has 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce nearly 315 million gallons annually.

Members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation have pushed the EPA to now lower the amount of renewable fuels that will be requires.

Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the Environmental Protection Agency released its final rule:

“The RFS has proven it works. It creates jobs, supports our agricultural communities and lessens our dependence on foreign oil. I have been leading the bipartisan fight in Congress for a strong RFS, and while the numbers are greater than the original proposal, they do not go far enough. I will continue to work with the EPA to ensure the RFS remains good for Iowa.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley made the following comment on the final rule:

“This rule is a slight improvement but it still sells biofuels short. The EPA just doesn’t appreciate that farmers and biofuels producers can generate enough renewable fuels to meet the goals set by Congress. The EPA doesn’t seem to appreciate that the law on the books requires strong biofuels targets and that consumers like the chance to use alternate fuels. Instead, the EPA took a flawed approach that seems to buy into Big Oil’s rhetoric. The new rule is not only more than two years late, but it also sets back the development of next generation biofuels. This rule undermines the efforts to commercialize the next generation of biofuels. It’s unfortunate that this Administration, which claims to be for renewable and clean energy, would stand in the way of the production and use of more renewable fuels.”

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst released this statement:

“I am extremely disappointed by the EPA’s choice to reduce volume requirements for corn ethanol which flies in the face of original congressional intent, and fails to provide any incentives for expanding alternative fuel availability for consumers. The Obama Administration is once again using the EPA to impose their agenda on hardworking Iowans by instituting biofuel volume requirements that are lower than originally mandated and in direct contradiction of the law.

“The RFS creates consumer choice for clean fuel, spurs investment in research, production and infrastructure. Furthermore, it is critical to growing our green energy sector, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and supporting the rural economy in Iowa and across the Midwest.

“Iowa is a national leader and is home to retailers across the state who offer affordable ethanol and biodiesel blends to consumers which is in direct alignment with the original intent of RFS when Congress passed it.

“Having a strong and long-term RFS is of critical importance to Iowa, as well as our nation. I remain committed to protecting our domestic energy security and promoting innovation in the next generation of biofuels which are paramount to the health and vitality of our state as we chart a path forward.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released this statement on the EPA’s decision:

“I am extremely disappointed that the EPA’s final decision failed to follow the renewable volume levels set by Congress,” said Branstad.  “Unfortunately, today’s decision shows the lack of interest in providing consumers choice at the pump, creating jobs and increasing incomes in Rural America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  This rule falls far too short of a robust RFS and short of the standards set by Congress.”

“This entire process has negatively impacted Iowa families through reduced commodity prices, farm incomes, and farmland values,” said Reynolds. “We were hopeful that the EPA would fully recognize the importance of renewable fuels after years of regulatory uncertainty.  However, the EPA’s decision only marginally improves volume levels in a step that will hurt Iowa families, businesses, and farmers.”



Deere lays off 220 at Moline plant

John-DeereIowa’s largest manufacturing employer is making what it calls workforce adjustments in the Quad Cities. Deere and Company is putting 220 workers at the Seeding and Cylinder plant in Moline, Illinois, on indefinite layoff, effective February 15th.

The layoffs follow last week’s forecast by Deere that agricultural machinery sales will drop in the new fiscal year. Deere officials say the layoffs will align the size of the workforce at individual factories with market demand for products made at each location. As yet, no other layoffs are being announced.


Iowa grown Christmas trees do well this year

Iowa grown Christmas trees.

Iowa grown Christmas trees.

The president of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers say you’ll have a good selection of Iowa-grown trees this year.

Jan Pacovsky says the growing season that help the state’s two main crops of soybeans and corn was also kind to tree growers.

“I haven’t heard any negatives from any of the growers that they’re having problems. And everything is looking pretty good,” according to Pacovsky. “Basically they (trees) do pretty good when there’s not a lot of rain, because they don’t get over watered.”

Pacovsky says too much water and not enough can impact tree growth, but the growers she’s heard from are pleased. She says everybody is talking about having some nice trees this year. While growers across the state are looking forward to a good season, Pacovsky won’t have trees again this year as they continue to recover from a heard of deer which ate the trees on her farm. If you head out to a farm to cut your own tree, she says look for one that appears to be in good health.

“They want to look at something that looks like it has some good, fresh needles on it and has been taken care of. Most of the trees that the growers grow, they do a lot of work on them, trimming and things like that involved in taking care of the Christmas trees,” Pacovsky says. She says many people think tree farmers simply put the trees in the ground and wait until they are tall enough to be cut and trimmed.

“It’s a process that people don’t understand,” Pacovsky explains. She says you plant the seedlings and then after three years you have to trim and work on the trees before the final product is ready in about seven years. While there are all kinds of artificial trees that come in box and some with lights already in the branches, Pacovsky says many of the customers at the tree farms are repeat customers. Many parents bring their kids to re-live the tradition of when they went out and got a tree as kids.

“They gotten to the point where it’s gotten to be kind of a good to make it a family affair. And they go out and run around, the kids do, and try to see which tree is the best. It’s just a good activity for them,” Pacovsky says. The Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association represents 98 tree farms in the state.

A directory of tree farms across Iowa is available at: Go to the “Find a Farm” link on the top left-hand corner of the page. The location of the farms is listed as well as a phone number and hours of operation for each farm.

The Iowa Agriculture Department says the farms devote over 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and as a result harvest approximately 39,500 Christmas trees each year. The Ag Department says Christmas tree growers contribute a one million dollars to Iowa’s economy.


ISU economist expects shopping season similar to last year

Dave Swenson

Dave Swenson

An Iowa State University economist says the signs are pointing to an average holiday season for retailers this year. Dave Swenson says all of the analysis he’s seen doesn’t predict any big swings in shopping.

“Most people who are looking at the Iowa economy say it’s looking steady and a lot like last year,” Swenson says, “we continue to improve and incomes have gone up, and by all measures then you should expect a conventional holiday season.”

The good news is the economy hasn’t gotten worse compared to last year, but the improvement isn’t setting any records. “There’s not part of the Iowa economy that’s booming. There’s no special part that is really showing well. Because of that, there’s really not a lot of expectation for there to be a strong growth in holiday spending beyond the growth in just regular household income,” according to Swenson.

Swenson says it does appear though that the urban areas have an edge over rural areas economically. “The farm sector is weaker because of low crop prices and the multiplied through consequences of that might mean that there are parts of the economy that aren’t doing as well,” Swenson explains. “We know that communities that depend on manufacturing jobs and those types of things aren’t doing quite as well metropolitan areas which are enjoying consistent, both employment, population and income growth.”

One thing that is making an impact across the economy in the state is the drop in gas prices. He says the savings at the pump translates into a pay increase for households. “Compared to a year ago, it’s significant,” Swenson says. “Now, how much that increase is as a fraction of your household income — it isn’t that much — gas prices have more of a psychological than a significant effect for most families. But it will put more money in our pockets and more disposable income and greater opportunities for purchases. We can afford to do just a little bit more at the holiday season, but not that much more,” Swenson says.

Milder temperatures and lower heating fuel costs have also save Iowans some money on utility bills. “Every little piece on energy savings — whether its in your utility bill or if it’s gas being pumped into your car — every little savings is a boost to your household income. And it’s one of the few boosts to income we’re getting,” Swenson says. He says that boost helps in a time when wages have stay pretty flat.


Gas drops below the $2 mark in Iowa and other states

gas-1-99Gas prices are below $2 a gallon in many locations as Iowans prepare to hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. AAA Iowa spokesperson Rose White says motorists are thankful for pump prices that haven’t been seen in 7 years.

“Approximately 42-million Americans are expected to take a road trip this Thanksgiving and drivers should pay the lowest pump prices for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2008,” White said. The U.S. Energy Administration has reported domestic crude oil inventories are near an all-time high and White says many Midwest refineries are back on-line after planned or unplanned maintenance.

“Production in the region is at its highest rate in nearly two months and that has attributed to a steady decline in prices across the Midwest,” Rose said. This morning, AAA reported the statewide average for a gallon of regular unleaded gas dropped to $2.08.

“Motorists across Iowa are seeing significant savings compared to last year,” Rose said. “If you look at today’s prices and compare them to last Thanksgiving, they’re saving about 72-cents a gallon.” Nearly 60 percent of all gas stations in the U.S. are now selling fuel below $2 a gallon.


Federal and state tax officials push Iowans to be safer with financial info

revenue-departmentThe Internal Revenue Service is launching a new campaign with the Iowa Department of Revenue and the state’s private sector tax industry to nudge Iowans into taking more precautions with their sensitive financial information.

Christopher Miller, a spokesman for the IRS in Iowa, says identity thieves are becoming more sophisticated all the time and taxpayers need to keep up or they may become victims.

“We want to encourage people when they file their taxes at home and whenever they’re working with personal information at home, to use security software to protect their computers,” Miller says. “That includes firewalls and anti-virus protection.” Authorities say ID thieves are using personal data from real taxpayers to create fake state and federal tax returns to claim real refunds.

Miller says Iowans have to be on guard for crooks who are trolling to rip you off using telephone and email “phishing” cons. “If you get a call from someone posing as an IRS agent and they threaten you with jail or lawsuits, it’s a scam, hang up,” Miller says. “We also want to encourage people to protect their personal information. Do not routinely carry your Social Security number.” Also, oversharing on social media gives identity thieves even more personal details.

The new IRS campaign is called “Taxes. Security. Together.” and it aims to raise public awareness that even routine actions on the Internet and with personal electronic devices can affect the safety of financial and tax data. “Your tax returns are sensitive data so you have to treat that information just like you would cash, don’t leave it laying around,” Miller says. “Properly dispose of old tax returns and other sensitive documents by shredding them before you put them in the trash.”

The campaign includes several components, including YouTube videos, consumer-friendly Tax Tips each week and local events. Several IRS publications are being added or updated to help taxpayers and tax professionals at, state web sites and platforms used by the tax preparation community.

The campaign will continue through the April tax deadline.



Rubio is pressing for changes in work visa program

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is calling for new limits in the program that allows U.S. companies to get work visas for foreigners.

“The H1B program is a program designed to allow American companies to hire foreigners with special skills when they cannot find an American to do the job,” Rubio said. “And the problem today is that the program is being abused.”

It is illegal for a U.S. company to replace a worker with a foreigner who holds an H1B work visa, but Rubio said U.S. firms are contracting with companies based in India who then hire foreigners, then get those foreigners visas and transfer them to work in the United States.

“Under this program, you are supposed to attest, sign a piece of paper, that says: ‘We tried to hire Americans to do this work, but we couldn’t find anybody and so therefore we hired this foreigner,'” Rubio said. “…Even if you could improve the company’s not telling the truth, no one is enforcing it.”

According to Rubio, all too often American workers who are being laid off have to train the foreign workers being brought in through the visa program.

“What’s it’s being used for, in essence, is a run around way of replacing American workers,” Rubio said.

Rubio said it’s time to limit the number of visas that can be held by American companies seeking to out-source operations. Rubio is in the midst of a five-day campaign swing through Iowa, his most extensive visit to the state since he started his campaign. Rubio, who is a Florida senator, joked about the snow during a visit to Oskaloosa this weekend.

“Thank you so much for being here today,” Rubio said. “…I know how hard it is. I know every time we get these snow storms in Miami, it’s hard to get to where we’re going.”

Rubio is casting the 2016 election as a “generational choice” and he’s warning the next president must address the ballooning federal debt.

“The cause of our debt is not foreign aid. I know a lot of people point to that,” Rubio said in Oskaloosa. “Foreign aid is less than one percent of our budget. The causes of our debt are the way Social Security and Medicaid are structured for future generations.”

Rubio campaigned in Carroll this morning. He’ll be in Council Bluffs over the noon hour. Tomorrow, Rubio will hold a town hall meeting in Grinnell.

(Reporting by Kyler Meyers, KBOE, Oskaloosa; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)