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Statement of The Hon. Abby Finkenauer on Growing the Clean Energy Economy

Washington, September 10, 2019

As the Congresswoman from Iowa’s First Congressional District, I know how important clean energy and renewable fuels are to our economy and our environment. As this sector continues to grow and become a driving force in the global economy, businesses—large and small—are looking to take advantage of these new opportunities. By reducing emissions, supporting renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency, we can reduce our environmental footprint and continue to create millions of high-skilled jobs.

Small businesses play a vital role in the clean energy economy. From our farmers growing corn and soybeans for biofuels to our manufacturers creating parts for wind turbines to our utility workers or workers installing energy efficiency equipment, nearly every state has seen an increase in clean energy jobs. The sector now employs more than 3.2 million workers, outnumbering jobs in fossil fuels almost three to one. These jobs are in a wide range of industries, many of which have a large presence of small firms. Through innovation and hard work, many small businesses are bringing clean energy technologies to market, creating economic growth and supporting communities across the country.

Even large-scale projects such as wind farms and solar arrays create jobs and opportunities for these smaller firms. Moving forward, we need to make sure that we are supporting our skilled workers along with building trades and other union apprenticeships which these growing industries can rely on to meet their workforce needs. Metal workers, machinists, and truck drivers are among the American helping create a more efficient and reliable clean energy future for our country. 

The clean energy economy has had an especially beneficial impact on small towns and rural areas. Rural communities in Midwestern states like Iowa have experienced notable growth in renewable energy. These industries are proven job creators—adding more than 8,000 new rural jobs in 2016.

This hearing will explore the challenges and opportunities to advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and identify what Congress can do to support the small businesses and skilled workforce that are the backbone of the clean energy economy.

Being from Iowa, the topic of this hearing has special importance for me. Our state is a leader in clean and renewable energy thanks to our strong agriculture industry, investments in wind and solar energy, and strong support from both the public and private sectors. Over a third of the energy generated in Iowa—over 36 percent— comes from wind. That’s more wind energy than any other state.

We also lead the nation in the production of biofuels. With 4.35 billion gallons of ethanol production and 365 million gallons of biodiesel production in 2018, renewable fuels make a significant contribution to the Iowa economy. Biofuels support 48,000 jobs in Iowa and have become a critical domestic market for corn and soybeans.

However, our renewable fuels sector is facing hard times, which makes this hearing especially timely. Uncertainty surrounding some of the federal policies and incentives that the biofuels industry has come to rely on has thrown its future and the future of neighbors and Iowa farmers into jeopardy.

This Administration’s unprecedented use of small refinery waivers have undercut the Renewable Fuel Standard. The approval of these 85 waivers have killed demand for roughly 1.4 billion bushels of corn and are an economic blow to farmers like my sister and brother-in-law who are already facing the devastating effects of the President’s trade war.

I am currently working my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to call for a federal investigate of this secretive exemption process for small refineries, but the question is whether relief will come soon enough for the biofuels industry. Even some of the biggest companies like ADM have seen profits drop by roughly 40% and others have been forced to cut production or stop altogether. And, this was happening even before the Administration granted 31 small refinery waivers for 2018.

The expiration of the biodiesel tax credit has also created a challenge. This credit has been effective in helping the biodiesel industry develop and compete with the well-established fossil fuel industry. Biodiesel now supports 60,000 jobs and generates more than $11 billion in economic activity annually.

Producers are now struggling to survive without the credit. Already, at least eight biodiesel plants have shut down this year. Another three or four may close before the end of the month if it is not extended. For months now, I have been working hard on bipartisan legislation to renew the biodiesel tax credit. Iowa jobs are on the line and we must act now to extend these tax credits. While pleased that the Ways and Means Committee has marked up a package that includes a three year extension of the tax credit, I’ll continue to call on House and Senate leadership to work together and extend the credit immediately.

The renewable fuels industry— like our other renewable energy producers— have fought hard for a seat at the table and are an integral part of the clean energy economy. We are fortunate to have a biodiesel producer from Iowa here today to discuss some the challenges facing the industry. With that, I want to thank all our witnesses again for being here and I look forward to our conversation. I hope we all leave with a deeper understanding of the future of clean energy and how to better support our small businesses and workers in these sectors. 

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