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Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, last Tuesday, President Obama traveled to Iowa. He visited counties and towns that have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn. While Iowa's average unemployment rate stands at 6.8 percent, Lee County's unemployment rate stands near 11 percent. Wapello County's unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent. These were the counties that President Obama visited. Over 1,000 jobs have been lost in each of the 3 counties he visited since the recession began.
The visit to Iowa was billed as an effort to highlight the steps taken to achieve long-term growth and prosperity by creating a new, clean energy economy.
During his trip, the President visited a Siemens wind blade manufacturing facility in Fort Madison. I had the opportunity to visit there about a year and a half ago. The President touted Iowa's leadership in the production of wind energy. This Siemens facility is a great facility. I recall just a few years ago speaking to Siemens manufacturing when they were looking for a site for their first wind production facility in the United States. I told the executives at Siemens they would not be disappointed if they chose Fort Madison for their facility because Iowans are some of the hardest working and honest people in the country.
I am particularly proud of the second-in-the-Nation status of Iowa's wind production. I first authored and won enactment of the wind production tax credit in 1992. This incentive has led to the exponential growth in the production of wind across our entire United States.
It has also helped my State of Iowa to become a leader in the production of wind energy component manufacturing.
The emerging wind industry has created thousands of jobs in recent years in the cities of Newton, West Branch, Cedar Rapids, and Fort Madison.
When President Obama says energy security should be a top priority, I agree with our President. When he says we need to rely more on homegrown fuels and clean energy, I agree with our President. When he says our security and our economy depend on making America more energy independent, I agree with our President.
During a subsequent visit to an ethanol facility in Missouri, President Obama stated unequivocally that his administration would ensure the domestic biofuel industry would be successful. The President and I are in strong agreement that renewable biofuels are a key part of our future.
Unfortunately, I believe President Obama missed an important opportunity to make a push for the message of the biodiesel tax credit. While the President was in Iowa touting green jobs, this Democratic Congress has, in effect, sent pink slips to about 18,000 people who depend on the production of biodiesel for their livelihood.
On December 31, 2009, the biodiesel tax credit, which is essential to keep a young bioindustry competitive, expired. In anticipation of the expiration of the tax credit, Senator Cantwell and I introduced a long-term extension in August of 2009. That bill was never considered last year.
In December, as the expiration loomed, I came to the Senate floor to implore my colleagues to put partisan politics aside and pass a clean extension of the biodiesel tax credit because, without an extension, I knew the industry would come to a grinding halt, and it has.
For whatever reason, the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate have never considered this extension a priority. Now the industry is experiencing the dire situation I predicted.
On January 1 of this year, about 23,000 people were employed in the biodiesel industry. Because of the lapse in the credit, nearly every biodiesel facility in the country is idle or operating at a fraction of capacity. Nearly all of Iowa's 15 biodiesel refineries have completely halted production. This has led to the loss of about 2,000 jobs in Iowa alone.
The thousands of jobs created by the wind industry in Iowa have essentially been offset by the thousands of jobs lost in the biodiesel industry.
You do not have to take my word for the dire state of the industry. A $50 million biodiesel facility in Farley, IA--that is in northeast Iowa--announced that they just laid off 23 workers and cut the pay of the rest of the staff.
Renewable Energy Group laid off 9 employees in a facility in Ralston, IA, and 13 in Newton, IA. Ironically, the Newton biodiesel facility is 1 mile down the road from a wind manufacturing facility that President Obama visited on Earth Day just last year. During President Obama's trip to Iowa, he was within a few miles of three biodiesel facilities that are idle: one in Keokuk, IA, one in Washington, IA, and another in Crawfordsville, IA.
According to a press release from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, an Iowan affiliated with biodiesel industry was able to speak to President Obama very briefly following a townhall session in Ottumwa, IA. Mr. Albin, vice president at Renewable Energy Group, told President Obama that plants are idle and 90 percent of the biodiesel employees have been laid off simply as a result of the tax credit lapse. According to Mr. Albin, President Obama assured him that he would not let the biodiesel industry die.
He recalls the President saying something like this--and I want to quote what I suppose was a paraphrase by Mr. Albin:
I'm the President and I promise I will do whatever I can. Look, I'm on your side, but I've got a Congress to deal with.
Well, I can understand what the President would say. I happen to believe that in my 4 years of serving with then-Senator Obama, that Senator Obama, now President Obama, is very sincere about the promotion of ethanol and biodiesel or biofuels--whatever you want to call it. In fact, I had the good occasion of working with then-Senator Obama on a Senate bill when I was still chairman of the Finance Committee to promote the tax credit that is now in place so that filling stations can get a tax credit for putting in for E85 ethanol, as an example. So I don't question President Obama's response to Mr. Albin. Of course, we do have checks and balances in government and the President has Congress to deal with. But I hope President Obama will take strong action to insert himself into this debate in the Congress.
It seems that even President Obama, from this quote, is frustrated by the lack of action by the Democratic congressional leadership on this issue.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record this press release from Iowa RFA at the conclusion of my remarks.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Udall of Colorado). Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See exhibit 1.)
Mr. GRASSLEY. The board president of Western Iowa Energy in Wall Lake, IA, recently stated:
Due to the continued lapse of the biodiesel tax credit, Western Iowa Energy continues to suffer from significantly limited sales and reduced sales forecasts. Due to these market conditions, we have made the difficult decision to idle our facility. Today we are laying off 15 full-time employees. This represents more than 50 percent of our staff.
On February 10, Senator Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, and I worked in a bipartisan fashion to develop an $84 billion jobs package that included a 1-year extension of several energy tax credits, including the biodiesel tax incentive. Before the ink was even dry on the paper, Majority Leader Reid scuttled our bipartisan package in favor of a partisan approach. That delayed passage of an extension in the Senate for well over a month, until the month of March.
Now it has been languishing for 6 weeks. Where is the urgency? This Congress jammed through a stimulus bill that spent $800 billion to keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent, and of course it didn't stay below 8 percent. Yet we can't find the time to pass a simple tax extension that will likely reinstate 20,000 jobs overnight. We are 4 months delinquent in our obligation to these biofuel producers with no end game in sight. The lack of action on this issue defies logic or common sense.
So while the Democratic leadership talks about creating green jobs, their action has led to job cuts. Americans are unemployed today because of the action--or more aptly the inaction--of the Democratic congressional leadership, particularly on this biodiesel issue.
The United States is more dependent upon foreign oil because of the inaction of the Congress. Automobiles are producing more pollution because we have essentially eliminated this renewable, cleaner-burning biofuel. Rural economies are being stripped of the economic gain of this value-added agricultural product.
So I urge the Senate to take immediate action to extend this tax incentive and reduce our dependence upon foreign oil and save green jobs.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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