Our Own Infinity Wars: Trade, Tariffs, Tax and Waivers

In the face of relentless attacks on biodiesel, we are not alone. Like the Avengers, the biodiesel industry has assembled a powerful group of mighty heroes to defend against its adversaries.
By Grant Kimberley | May 18, 2018

I’ve watched with interest as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved over the past decade, culminating with this spring’s blockbuster release of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. I can relate to the drama of those Marvel movies, and how the Avengers always seem to face relentless attacks with seemingly insurmountable odds, and larger-than-life adversaries.

Since Iowa is a national leader in both soybean and biodiesel production, I know as well as anyone that, like the Avengers, the agriculture and biofuels sectors have come a long way in the past 10 years despite constant attacks. We have taken a remarkable journey with many highs and lows, but we should feel proud of the progress we’ve made—even as the stakes couldn’t be higher in the past year alone.

Both agriculture and renewable fuels have faced a never-ending string of battles full of countermeasures; meetings at the state, national and global levels; press conferences; media interviews; and market gyrations that hang on the balance of the latest tweet. More than once, the fate of agriculture and renewable biofuels seemed on the verge of defeat. Our movie trailer would show the possibility of losing out on existing and future trade agreements, the threat of soybean tariffs, backdoor Renewable Fuel Standard waivers for some villainous oil refiners, unjustly low RFS volumes, closed door White House meetings, and Ted Cruz holding hostage a well-qualified USDA undersecretary candidate. It has taken a strong team of ag and biofuel Avengers to defend our industry. 

When it comes to feedstock, the threats have been dramatic of late. Some of them are smaller—such as the new Food and Drug Administration regulations if you want to sell your glycerin for feed or food uses. (The Iowa Biodiesel Board recently rolled out a program to help producers in every state with this—check our website for details.) Other threats are more menacing. In addition to my role as IBB executive director, I serve as Iowa Soybean Association’s director of market development, plus I’m a partner in my family’s sixth-generation farm. When the recent trade disagreements erupted, dragging soybean farmers into great peril, I had just returned from a trade mission in China. We met with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now the U.S. Ambassador to China. He warned us that this battle was coming, and to hold on as it might be rough for a while before it hopefully gets better. He was optimistic that with his knowledge of the issues and all the players, we would succeed. He assured us he will do all he can to keep both countries talking and negotiating to find a more reciprocal win-win trade relationship. The road to get there will be rough and could be full of setbacks, but in Ambassador Branstad we’ve got a biofuels “hero” keeping watch for us.

In much the same way, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst—our Guardians of the Galaxy—have battled on behalf of agriculture and the renewable fuels industry against the opposing forces that are trying to dismantle the RFS. This plot is led by Ted Cruz and others aligned with The Dark World—certain oil refinery interests. It is very disheartening to watch the RFS undermined like this, and EPA seems to be helping them do it. Likewise, we have had to contend with the on-and-off-again biodiesel tax credit. That level of uncertainty makes it challenging for the industry to continue to grow and mature. 

The good news is we are not alone. Like the Avengers, we have assembled a powerful group of our industry’s mightiest heroes to defend against our adversaries. I take great comfort in our friends, who help us in more ways than we can see on our journey. Knowing we are not alone keeps me going in the Age of Chaos.

Biodiesel and all of agriculture is still well-positioned to grow and be successful in the U.S., but we must continue to band together. Sorta like a team, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes type-thing. I know, I know—sounds exhausting. But when the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the River of Truth, and tell the whole world, “No. You move.”
Biodiesel Avengers, assemble!
Author: Grant Kimberley
Executive Director, Iowa Biodiesel Board
[email protected]

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