Jul 20, 2023 - Business

Illinois corn growers face off against feds over emissions limits

Illustration of a danger sign with an ear of corn for an exclamation point.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Illinois corn growers are attacking a Biden administration plan that's expected to accelerate a transition to electric vehicles.

What's happening: The Illinois Corn Growers Association last week joined industry groups nationwide in pressuring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pump the brakes on proposed auto tailpipe rules.

Why it matters: The rules would radically change our automotive landscape and improve air quality, but some growers in Illinois — the second-biggest corn producer in the nation — say they could also devastate the industry.

Driving the news: The EPA rules, proposed in April, would in effect require two-thirds of new car sales to be EVs by 2032.

  • If enacted, the Illinois Corn Growers Association predicts the drop in gasoline use would, over the span of 10 years, reduce the need for 1 billion bushels of corn that would've been used to make ethanol.

By the numbers: The proposed standards would eliminate 10 billion tons of CO2 from 2027 to 2055— more than twice the total U.S. CO2 emissions in 2022, feds say.

  • By one NPR estimate, up to 67% of all new vehicles sold in 2032 would have to be EVs to comply with the proposed EPA standards.

Zoom in: Gov. JB Pritzker aims to put 1 million EVs on Illinois roads by 2030, and this week the governor is in the U.K. promoting the state as an EV manufacturing leader.

  • But rural Midwest opposition to EVs could present election challenges for Pritzker and Biden.

What they're saying: Corn growers say they're not opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions per se, but they suggest the government achieve those goals through other avenues, including high-octane blends using more corn-based ethanol, which they say burns cleaner.

  • "We remain concerned about how quickly the EPA is trying to ramp up this vehicle transformation," Illinois Corn Growers Association communication manager Lindsay Mitchell tells Axios.

The other side: "While I've long been a proponent of a mix of technologies, I personally think the era of ethanol, particularly from corn, has largely passed," automotive analyst Sam Abuelsamid tells Axios' Joann Muller.

  • "It has become clear that it is not going to provide the degree of decarbonization required to meet climate goals, particularly for ground transportation."

What's next: EPA officials are expected to finalize the rules by March.


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