May 29, 2024

President Biden visits Menlo

MENLO — President Joe Biden visited Menlo Tuesday, April 12, touring POET Bioprocessing, a biofuels plant there formerly known as Flint Hills Resources, and gave remarks following that tour.

A highlight of the visit is that he will have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) execute an emergency waiver allowing summer sales of gasoline containing 15% ethanol, called E15. It is expected to help boost fuel supplies this summer, though he cautioned that it isn’t meant to be a lasting solution.

Biden spoke in a grain storage building with a large pile of dried distiller’s grain, a major coproduct of ethanol production, to his left. Behind him were two large John Deere tractors, a couple of front-end loaders and a semi truck hooked to a grain trailer.

Congresswoman Cindy Axne made remarks, then Rachel Conner, the grain merchandiser at POET, welcomed the president to Iowa, as they both walked up to the presidential podium to the traditional march “Hail to the Chief.”

“I am a grain merchandiser. What that means is I help buy all of the grain in our bins from local farmers. It’s truly the honor of a lifetime to welcome President Joe Biden, and all of our distinguished guests, to POET today,” Conner said. “I am excited to be a part of an industry that does its part in making the world a better place.”

Conner said that as the world fights higher prices today because of the war in Ukraine, the biofuels industry stands “ready to help.”

Biden acknowledged Axne when he took the podium, saying she’s “one hell of a champion” for Iowa. He praised her determination in in representing the state.

‘Center of our efforts’

Biden shared his main focus for his visit was to talk about making rural America the center of the administration’s efforts by lowering costs for families. Biden said that’s about the term “made in America.”

“I just had the chance to see the work you do here. You turn more than 40 million bushels of corn into 130 billion gallons of ethanol a year. That’s a lot of gallons,” the president exclaimed, pointing out that a strength of plants like these is they support farmers.

He added that having a buyer gives corn farmers peace of mind. The biofuels industry also gives good paying jobs and reduces America’s reliance on foreign oil. It gives drivers more options at the pump, which drives up competition within the market, positively impacting the price at the pump. It harms the environment less and produces byproducts and coproducts that other agricultural sectors can benefit from, which can lower their costs.

“This is an industry with a tremendous future,” Biden exclaimed. “We’re on the cusp of so many amazing things that are going to happen in this country. This industry has a role to play in the sustainable energy future.”

The biofuels industry has a role to play right now as American works together moving forward, Biden said.

With Ukraine and Russia being two of the top grain producers in the world and their contribution to the world not being as large right now, Biden talked about how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “price hike” has impacted the price of gasoline by about 70%.

Solutions

Biden authorized the release of 1 million barrels per day for the next six months — over 180 million barrels in all. More than 30 other nations teamed with the United States for another 60 million barrels to be released.

“This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year,” the president said. “And it is by far the largest release from our national reserve in our history. This is the largest collective reserve release in history. Keeping [our allies] together is paying off.”

Biden said that in addition to reserves and allies, the country should rely on farmers. He made his E15 statement about 12 minutes into his speech and received a standing ovation for that. The measure will increase fuel supply and greatly help prices, he said.

E15 is about 10 cents per gallon cheaper than E10, Biden said. Many gas stations who sell it in the midwest are required to stop selling it in the summer.

Biden said about $100 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds will go to biofuels infrastructure in the future. He’s going to work toward mending fuel prices and holding those involved accountable for making sure both farmers and families are getting a “fair deal” on both ends of the market.

“Four big companies control half the market for beef, pork and poultry, giving farmers and ranchers very few choices of who to sell to,” Biden said. “These big conglomerates drive down prices they pay farmers as they drive up prices at the grocery store.”

Biden said he’s a capitalist. Without competition there’s no capitalism, there’s “exploitation.”

‘You matter’

He talked about his work to improve infrastructure in places like Iowa, where bridges that are classified as “structurally deficient” are many.

They’re essential for the equilibrium of a town, he said, but they need a lot of work. The president also touched on areas that are underserved or unserved by high speed internet.

“We’re sending a message to small communities and the places you live that you matter,” Biden said. “We see you. We’re building back you and making sure you’re not left behind.”

Stronger than before

Biden touched on the fact that with every disaster or tragedy the United States has faced, it has come out of it better than before.

“I’m more optimistic about America than I have been in my whole life. I’m a congenital optimist because I’m an American,” Biden said. “I believe in our future. It’s in our grasp. We’re the only nation on earth, if you think about it, that’s come out of every major crisis stronger than when we went in. We didn’t come out where we went in, we came out stronger. We took what we faced and turned it into an opportunity, and that’s what we’re going to do today.”

Reaction

The Adair County Free Press spoke with top-ranking officials from two different organizations after Biden’s speech, though many more were represented.

Benton County farmer Lance Lillibridge is president of Iowa Corn. He said Tuesday’s announcement from the president is a welcome commitment to farmers everywhere.

“This is an announcement we should applaud,” Lillibridge said. “Having E15 year-round, it is a temporary thing for this summer, but it’s a stepping stone. We need to have it all the time. It’s definitely a step forward to having higher blends in the future.”

Iowa Farm Bureau President Brent Johnson said his organization also applauds the president’s remarks.

“This is good for our farmers, good for Iowa, and it’s a good compliment to the industry that is really, quite honestly, born here in Iowa,” Johnson said. “It creates rural vitality and helps ensure the nation’s energy supply and keeps it here in the Midwest. We really applaud him for taking that action.”

Come and go

Biden originally was due to arrive in Greenfield on a helicopter after landing on Air Force One at Des Moines International Airport. Inclement weather impeded upon those plans, so the presidential motorcade took the president directly from the airport to Menlo.

Witnesses say Biden traveled into Menlo from Interstate 80 and the motorcade “wasn’t messing around.” They were traveling at an estimated 60 mph through Menlo.

Long before the president arrived, there was a heavy law enforcement presence in Menlo.

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.