Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Gene Griffith, CEO of Patriot Renewable Fuels, listen as local farmers and business and community leaders talk about the impact that Patriot has had on the community of Annawan and Henry County. Bustos heard from members of the Henry County Farm Bureau about the positive economic impact the plant has had on their family farming operations. She decried the recent attacks on ethanol production and corn farming and land conservation.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Gene Griffith, CEO of Patriot Renewable Fuels, listen as local farmers and business and community leaders talk about the impact that Patriot has had on the community of Annawan and Henry County. Bustos heard from members of the Henry County Farm Bureau about the positive economic impact the plant has had on their family farming operations. She decried the recent attacks on ethanol production and corn farming and land conservation.
ANNAWAN, Ill. – There were no ifs, ands or buts for U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., when it came to declaring her stance on ethanol and corn production for ethanol.

“I love the buttons you have on, ‘I love ethanol,’” she told a group of farmers, community and business leaders gathered Nov. 27 at Patriot Renewable Fuels in Annawan. “I love ethanol, too, and I will do everything I can to keep fighting for that.”

Bustos was at the plant to hear from those involved in the ethanol industry from the farm to the “table,” and of the production plant itself, in the wake of a story by a national media outlet that disparaged the corn-based version of the renewable biofuel. The article, written by Associated Press reporters, linked soil erosion and a decrease in conservation acres to corn being grown for ethanol.

Just days after that story appeared, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would cut the current Renewable Fuels Standard mandate of 18.15 billion gallons of biofuels to 15.21 billion gallons.

The EPA’s 60-day comment period on the proposed reductions in the standard started Nov. 29, and Bustos urged those present to weigh in.

“We’ve got time to fight this,” Bustos said.

She and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican, co-authored a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that outlines their concerns and objections to the proposed lower mandates.

“We have crafted this letter. We are getting cosigners of the letter that says we can’t take a step back on these numbers. At worst, we want to stay status quo, but we want to make improvements. It’s very clear why we need to make sure we’re fighting for this,” Bustos said.

She has made a name for herself by reaching across the aisle to forge bonds with Republican counterparts. She and fellow Democrats and Republicans formed the “No Labels” coalition, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who want to end the acrimony and gridlock in the U.S. Congress.

But her visit to Annawan was to talk about ethanol and the benefits it provides. Bustos didn’t back down when it came to talk about the Associated Press story.

“The story, frankly, that ran a couple of weeks ago — not accurate. It was not accurate. It was an Associated Press article that made it look like this was harmful to the environment. It is not harmful. I think, point by point by point, we can refute what was written. This is good for the environment. It’s good for greenhouse gases. There is just argument after argument about why ethanol and why biofuels make sense,” she said.

In the 17 th District, ethanol is a major player in the rural and farm economy.

“We have three plants, Galva, Lena and here in Annawan, so we’re talking about a major economic impact and jobs. We are a rural economy,” Bustos said.

She emphasized that she wanted to hear from those in the audience about how ethanol affects them and their interests.

Gene Griffith, the CEO of Patriot Renewable Fuels, introduced the audience, which included local agribusinessmen, Patriot management, local farmers and members of the Henry County Farm Bureau.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-Moline, emphasized that the spirit of entrepreneurship and invention that prompted John Deere to invent the cast-steel plow is the same spirit that Patriot’s founders brought to the ethanol industry.

“I just want to thank you for what you do because it proves to me that the spirit that started the John Deere Co. is still alive in my community, and I’m really thrilled by that,” said Jacobs, who chairs the energy committee in the Illinois Senate.

For the vice president of the Henry County Farm Bureau, multitasking — all with Patriot Renewable Fuels in mind — was his business of the day.

“I farm in the area. First thing I did this morning was bring a load of corn here, then I went home and got my pickup truck and stopped and filled it up with E-85,” said Steve Nightingale, who farms near Lynn.

Rock Katschnig, who farms near Prophetstown and Hooppole, brought a prop.

“As I climbed out of the combine this morning, I grabbed this kernel of corn,” he said, holding the small yellow kernel between his thumb and forefinger.

“This kernel of corn might look the same as 10 years ago or 20 years ago, but this kernel of corn is a totally different kernel today. The value that we can capture out of this kernel of corn today and how it’s changed the rural landscape of not only Henry County, but Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, wherever there’s an ethanol plant.

“As you drive, you might see new machinery, you might see a new home, you might see a new farm building. It’s all because of the value we’ve been able to capture out of this kernel of corn, the ethanol and all the other derivatives we now are able to gain value from.”

For Dennis Verbeck, president of the Henry County Farm Bureau and a farmer near Atkinson, the plant means being able to leave a smaller carbon footprint.

“Before the ethanol plant was here, we would take it to Hennepin, which is an additional 42 miles for us to travel. The freight savings is saving our operation about $30,000 a year, which we can invest back in our farm and which we can invest back into Main Street. That additional 42 miles equals an 84-mile roundtrip, which would equate to 23,000 miles additional truck travel on our interstates and bridges. That saves 4,600 gallons of diesel fuel. When we talk about lowering our carbon footprint, we’re able to do that as local producers, having a local refiner and user, such as Patriot, Big River and the other ethanol plants,” he said.

Kennard Franks, the mayor of Annawan, spoke to the value that the plant and its more than 50 employees have brought to the community.

“I want you to know what this all means to Annawan,” he said.

Using statistics provided by the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs, Franks noted that between 2000 and 2012, total retail sales increased locally by 123.3 percent, while retail sales statewide only grew 24 percent.

The number of businesses in Annawan increased by 43 percent during that same period, compared to a decline of 12.3 percent in the state.

“In 2009, we had 48 businesses paying sales tax. In 2012, we have 66,” Franks said.

Even those who aren’t connected to the plant have benefited. Franks said due to the plant’s presence, the town has been able to about a million dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements.

Griffith praised Franks and the community of Annawan as having supported the plant from the start.

“We needed certain things. We needed transportation, we needed natural gas, we needed water, we needed rail and we needed a community that supported us. Kennard and the village of Annawan have been outstanding in this,” Griffith said.

Kathleen Repass, director of the Henry County Economic Development Partnership, emphasized that the plant provides the jobs and economic certainty that helps a rural community grow and prosper.

“This is just so much of what we need in Henry County and in this part of western Illinois. Not only did they create the jobs here at the plant, but the town of Annawan has increased jobs and the surrounding areas. Farmers don’t have to go far to sell their crop, and it really brings a lot to this rural community,” she said.