Iowa ethanol producers are struggling as fuel demand is dropping with so many Americans staying home during the pandemic.

Both of Iowa’s U.S. senators are calling on the U.S.D.A. to provide aid for ethanol producers before more plants shut down. Senator Chuck Grassley says the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed Congress nearly three weeks ago was designed to keep all sorts of businesses afloat.

“The effort at the time we passed the CARES Act was to bring equity to the ethanol industry like what the petroleum industry was hoping to get done,” Grassley says. “Nothing went through for the petroleum industry so we didn’t get anything for the ethanol industry.”

An official with the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association says production has fallen by about half and at least seven ethanol plants and two biodiesel plants have closed. Grassley says there are several financial avenues he’s pursuing to keep biofuels plants open.
“I tried to get money for the ethanol industry through their feedstock, subsizing their feedstock,” Grassley says.

Iowa is the nation’s number-one ethanol and biodiesel producer with about half of the state’s corn crop devoted to ethanol each year. Grassley says Congress has pumped an additional $ 25 billion into the Commodity Credit Corporation due to the impact COVID-19 is having on corn prices.

“There’s also money available for infrastructure for filling stations to get in E-15 pumps,” Grassley says. “We’re working to get that program operational.” One report estimates ethanol demand could fall by eight-billion gallons due to coronavirus.

Senator Joni Ernst tweeted on Monday night: “The decrease in fuel consumption during #COVID19 has left biofuels facilities little choice but to idle production or close completely. Keeping these plants open is vital for Iowa’s economy.”