The announcement of final 2018 renewable fuels volumes brought a mixed bag of reaction Thursday.
Industry officials and lawmakers expressed disappointment that advanced biofuel amounts were largely flatlined, but they were grateful the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed volumes for traditional ethanol and abandoned earlier proposals they argued would do long-term harm.
The EPA announced Thursday that it will require 19.29 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the nation's gasoline supply in 2018.
The amount of conventional renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, was held steady at 15 billion gallons. But it was the volumes for advanced biofuels and biomass-based biodiesel that prompted widspread complaints among officials who had lobbied heavily for an increase.
Advanced biofuel levels for 2018 were set at 4.29 billion gallons, roughly the same as the 4.28 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, biomass-based biodiesel was set at 2.1 billion gallons for 2019, which represented no increase over the previous amount.
"These flat volumes will harm Americans across several job-creating sectors — be they farmers, grease collectors, crushers, biodiesel producers or truckers — as well as consumers," Doug Whitehead, chief operating officer of the National Biodiesel Board, said in a statement Thursday morning.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the new figures "fall short" of the industry's potential and aren't in keeping with Congress' intent to grow advanced fuels through the RFS.
"Contrary to that goal, this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels," he said.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he appreciated that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt "scrapped an earlier proposal and instead finalized a rule with higher levels for renewable fuels than the agency initially sought.”
"In October, I asked the administrator to develop a rule with stronger RFS volume requirements. It appears that he has done so, although I am disappointed that the volume requirement for biomass-based biodiesel is only 2.1 billion gallons when we can produce much more," King said in a statement.
Industry officials say biodiesel demand is greatly affected by the EPA's required levels, and that this new volume will stunt growth.
Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said the new figures "send a weak signal to the market at a time when our plants could significantly increase production and expand capacity."
This has been a tumultuous year for the biofuels industry, and for Midwest Republicans who backed President Donald Trump.
While campaigning for president in 2016, Trump promised to support renewable fuels. However, that promise was brought into question when Pruitt considered lowering biodiesel levels from the agency's initial July proposal. He also contemplated counting exports of traditional ethanol toward meeting the RFS mandate.
Both proposals brought a storm of protest on Capitol Hill and the industry, which said they would do long-term damage. Grassley called it a "bait and switch" and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, threatened to block a key EPA appointee.
The EPA, faced with refiners complaining the mandate is creating too heavy a burden, said it was just trying to balance competing interests. Eventually, though, Trump intervened and the proposals went by the wayside.
Even as officials expressed disappointment with the new advanced biofuel levels Thursday, they still praised the administration for upholding conventional ethanol amounts and backing off the potential structural changes.
“The Trump administration kept its commitment on not reducing volumes, and the numbers announced today uphold congressional intent while providing needed certainty for ethanol producers," Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said. "At the same time, while the levels for biodiesel are disappointing and do not capture the potential of the industry, I am optimistic the Trump administration will continue to advance biofuels and domestic energy production moving forward."
"Today, the EPA has upheld their commitment to set the volume requirements for conventional ethanol for 2018 approved levels, and I am pleased that this administration is keeping its pledge to rural America to support the RFS," Ernst added. She added she would continue to push for higher biofuel and cellulosic amounts.
The EPA also announced Thursday it is raising requirements for cellulosic ethanol to 288 million gallons for 2018. That's 50 million gallons higher than what the agency proposed in July but still lower than the 311 million set for 2017.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday that "this announcement shows that EPA Administrator Pruitt is listening to our concerns and taking them into consideration. But it also shows that we have more work to do."
SIOUX CITY | If Kayla Jabre were mayor of Sioux City, the Mater Dei Nativity Center seventh grader said she'd advocate for more walkways and bigger fines for litterbugs and, more creatively, attract a restaurant that sold nothing but chocolate.
"I know there's a restaurant like that in New York City," the 12-year-old said. "Sioux City could have one as well."
Kayla was one of the 36 students in teacher Andrea Bengford's English class participating in Iowa League of Cities' annual "If I Were Mayor" essay writing contest.
Open to seventh graders across Iowa, the contest provided students with the chance to step into the shoes of their mayor. A winning essay will be chosen in each of the state's four congressional districts, with the writer receiving a $250 college scholarship. A grand prize winner, chosen to represent the state, will pick up a $500 scholarship to be used towards college.
"We've participated in the contest for the past six years," Bengford explained. "But this is the first year that we've invited the mayor of Sioux City to hear what our kids have to say."
Sure enough, Mayor Bob Scott listened Thursday to the top eight essays chosen by Bishop Heelan Catholic School staff members.
For instance, Scott heard from an essay written by John Paul O'Connor, a 13-year-old who didn't like it when city projects would overlap.
"If I were mayor, I'd make sure that one project would be completely finished before the next one can be started," he said, reading his essay inside of the school library.
Indeed, John Paul even came up with a mathematical formula in which to divvy up his proposed city budget.
"I'd devote 10 percent of the budget to road work, 49 percent to go towards starting projects and 41 percent to go towards finishing existing projects," he said, earnestly checking his figures over again.
Complimenting the students on their suggestions, Scott said he was impressed that several of them recommended repurposing old downtown buildings to be used in new ways, while other students spoke of the need for more nature trails and green space.
"Those suggestions all call for economic development," Scott explained to the students. "To me, economic development is a quality of life issue. If a city offers more recreational opportunities, young people will stick around for a longer period of time.
While John Paul O'Connor wouldn't mind becoming mayor of Sioux City, it isn't currently in his long term plans.
"I'd rather go into engineering," he said.
Likewise, Kayla Jabre isn't interested in city politics either.
"When I grow up, I want to go into the military," she explained. "That way, I can see the world."
After hearing about the 250-pages of City Council-related reading material Scott must read each week, Kayla is even more certain she doesn't want to become mayor.
"No, that's way too much homework for me," she said, shaking her head.
SIOUX CITY | The middle of Sioux City's riverfront development could include an eye-catching ridge area with nearby play structures, art, event space and other elements, under new plans shared with the public Thursday evening.
Opinions still remain mixed on whether to include a Ferris wheel at the park, another proposed element of the project.
More than 50 community members weighed in on these and other ideas floated by a design firm during a public input session Thursday evening at City Hall. The meeting was the latest step in the years-long planning process to bring an attractive new park to the former site of the Argosy riverboat casino.
Tom Rodgers with SmithGroup JJR Inc., the group under contract with the city for schematic design services, laid out the newest ideas for the park, which the city hopes to develop once Interstate 29 work concludes in 2020.
Rogers recapped plans for a wealth of amenities including an interactive fountain, sport courts, overlooks, a dog park, a yoga lawn, restrooms, parking for 75 vehicles, and other amenities, including a potential fishing pier.
A new concept shared includes "Exploration Ridge," an topographical ridge-like area with a path along the top that would be created by a berm line. The surrounding area would include play, art and exercise elements. Event space nearby would include enough space for events for as many as 4,000 people, he said.
Located in the central portion of the park between Virginia Street and Floyd Boulevard, Rogers said the topographic ridge would double as a separator from the bustle of the interstate and would provide an eye-catching feature paired with the proposed Ferris wheel.
"We want to create a buffer from the highway," he said. "You want to be connected to the river."
The ridge element received positive reviews from the public, but reviews were mixed on another large-scale element of the park, the proposed Ferris wheel.
Councilwoman Rhonda Capron, among a handful who weighed in on the topic, said she doesn't want the city to be responsible for buying it and that she's hesitant about the liability involved.
"I'm not real crazy about the Ferris wheel," Capron said. "It's going to be a million bucks, probably."
Community member Chris Jackson said he believes the park needs a large attraction, such as a Ferris wheel, to attract people to the location, which he described as an "island" caught between the river and the interstate.
Jackson further added he wanted to see the park connected to the states across the river through a pedestrian bridge.
"The Ferris wheel, although it's not the most amazing thing or the best maybe, it's something that would (attract people)," Jackson said. "And I think that those additional ways to get to that area are just as important as that area."
A pedestrian bridge stretching into South Sioux City has been an idea for the park shared in the past, although the price tag would be high. Rogers said it is not included in the current scope of the contract, but current park designs would allow for its addition later.
Other public concerns included making the streets leading into the park friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists and where people attending would park during large events.
Input from Thursday's meeting will inform future designs for the project. Parks and Recreation Director Matt Salvatore said he anticipates the Sioux City Council will receive a new update on the design plans in late January or early February.
"After tonight we are going to be going back to the drawing board with the input that was received from the steering committee and that we receive tonight," Salvatore said.
The city entered its $124,500 schematic design agreement with SmithGroup JJR in June. It set a working budget of about $12 million for the development. A steering committee is also seeking grants to help fund the park.