EP. 23 - Congressional Rep. Cheri Bustos and the Next Generation Fuels Act: A Full Tank of Good Policy

September 1, 2021

EP. 23 - Congressional Rep. Cheri Bustos and the Next Generation Fuels Act: A Full Tank of Good Policy

Sep 1, 2021

Key Issues:EthanolHigh-Octane Low-Carbon

The fifth-term Congresswoman from Illinois is the recipient of the NCGA’s President’s Award

 

The Next Generation Fuels Act is poised to reinforce the market for American ethanol, and it’s been introduced in Congress with bipartisan support.

 

And in this episode of the podcast, we’re joined by Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who was honored with the NCGA President’s Award this year for her support as sponsor of the Next Generation Fuels Act.

 

She’ll outline the specifics of the bill, share the outlook from Washington and detail what you can do to make sure this important piece of legislation becomes law.

 

 

 
Transcript

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Creating jobs, opening up opportunities for our family farmers, driving down carbon emissions. All of that happens if we can get the Next Generation Fuels Act passed, this is an opportunity that we have, and I would love to be able to get this signed into law and make this part of how we do business going forward.

 

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. This is where leaders, growers, and stakeholders in the corn industry can turn for big picture conversations about the state of the industry and its future. I'm Dusty Weis. And I will be introducing your host association, CEO, Jon Doggett. From the fields of Corn Belt to the DC Beltway. We're making sure the growers that feed America have a say in the issues that are important to them. With key leaders who are shaping the future of agriculture. The Next Generation Fuels Act is poised to reinforce the market for American ethanol. And it's been introduced in Congress with bipartisan support.

 

Dusty Weis:

So in this episode, we're joined by Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who was honored with the NCGA president's award this year for her support as sponsor of the Next Generation Fuels Act. She'll share the outlook from Washington and what you can do to make sure this important piece of legislation becomes law. But if you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. Also, make sure you follow the NCGA on twitter at National Corn and sign up for the National Corn Growers Association news letter at ncga.com. And with that it's time to once again, introduce Jon. Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. Jon we're back on the topic of ethanol today, but you brought a little bit of political star power with you this time.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know Dusty, it's hard to have a conversation these days about corn without talking about ethanol. And I guess that's been that way for a long, long time, but you know, recently we've had court cases. We've had a new campaign in DC on ethanol that NCGA is driving. You know, the tank, pardon the pun, has been full of ethanol related news of late. And we're very, very fortunate today to be digging into some really good news about ethanol with a very special guest. And we're beyond honored to have Representative Cheri Bustos from Illinois on our program.

 

Jon Doggett:

Since 2013, she has represented Illinois 17th congressional district, which encompasses a whole lot of corn country in the Northwestern part of the state. That's only a small part of her story. She's a former journalist. She served her community in a number of different positions at the local level. And she's a member of the Illinois college sports hall of fame, among many, many other things, and we're going to come back to that hall of fame thing later in the podcast. But with that welcome Congresswoman Bustos. And please tell us, what did I miss in that intro?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Intro? Well, first of all, Jon, thank you very much for having me and Dusty, thank you for setting all of this up as well. Let's see. I come from a long line of family farmers, why we start there because of the topic at hand. They all grow corn. Every last one of them, they also raise Angus and we have dairy farmers, we have hog farmers, we have it all in my family. And maybe the other thing worth noting is I have served on the house AG committee since I was first elected, now in my fifth term. So that would be going on 10 years that I've served on the house AG committee. And for the first time I'm actually chairing a subcommittee on general farm commodities and risk management. So again, for the purposes of this conversation, that's pretty important when you're looking at crop insurance, et cetera, and ethanol is extremely, extremely important to the people that I serve. So we want to make sure that we're doing all we can to help.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

I always like to say, where the federal government is in your way, I want to know because we should be out of the way if it's getting in the way of your success and where we can be of help, I want to know that as well. So that's my overall general philosophy of being a member of Congress who represents folks who live on close to 10,000 family farms in this congressional district in what's considered downstate Illinois.

 

Jon Doggett:

Your district runs from Rockford to East Dubuque along the Mississippi river to the quad cities, curls back around around to include parts of Peoria. You know, sometimes people tend to forget that there's more to Illinois than the city of Chicago. Tell us a little bit about your district. Obviously you have a lot of corn production, but what else is in your district?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Oh, I could talk about this district all day long. Well, first of all, I guess from a political perspective, we have 18 members of Congress in the state of Illinois and every single one of the Democrats is from Chicago land except for the district for me, for the district I represent. So it is typically a district like this that is mostly rural geographically that is represented by our friends on the other side of the aisle. So I remember meeting a Nebraska farmer once and he came up to me and he said, you're a political unicorn. His point was that rural America is not typically represented by Democrats. So I feel very fortunate that the voters here have elected me to five terms in Congress. The other part of our district, I mentioned the nearly 10,000 family farms that are here, but we've also got 90,000 labor households. And that originates mostly because we have the world headquarters of John Deere in the town that I live in.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

In fact, I'm sitting right now in my home, which overlooks the Mississippi River. So we also have more locks and dams in this congressional district than any congressional district in the country. So the navigation of the Mississippi, and we also have the Illinois River, the navigation of the Illinois are critically important to our growers, but they're also critically important to commerce throughout the country, but especially in a congressional district like this. So I think that tells a little bit about this congressional district that is driven economically by agriculture. I would say, we are not an affluent district, a family of four makes less than 50,000 a year.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

I would just characterize it as hardworking people who politically are more moderate. They just want whoever represents them to get the job done and get results. And that is the way I approach this job. I say that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately. I'm on what's called the 21st century Heartland tour right now. I do this every August. Yesterday, I was on four farming operations throughout our congressional district. And I listen and then take what I've learned and take that with me out to Washington DC, and hopefully do something about what I've learned and get results for the people back home.

 

Dusty Weis:

Well, speaking of listening, you had mentioned that you actually have a pretty busy schedule today, that later today, in fact, you're going to be on the job site now, what do you call that again? And what can you tell us about this?

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

 

Well I call it Cheri on shift. We have done this since I was first elected and it really kind of goes back to my days as a journalist. I was a journalist for 17 years. You had mentioned that was part of my background, but if you talk to any journalists the way, at least I think the good ones, operate, they don't sit in the newsroom and just make phone calls all day long, but they like to go out and see things firsthand so they can write about it in a more meaningful way. So I've taken that background and I job shadow people. I do it routinely. In fact, the one that I'm doing today will be my 106th, and I will be in a very hot bakery today. They said to prepare for temperatures to be over 100 degrees. And that's why I explained to you earlier, Jon, I'm very informal. I've got jeans on and a casual shirt and a baseball cap with a state of Illinois on it.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

But I have done everything from, I've sat alongside a family farmer and harvested. I have processed carp out of the Mississippi river. I have replaced street bulbs 20, 30 feet up on a cherry picker. I have poured steel into molds. I have been a forger, not a check forger, but where you're forging metal. So literally I have done so many different jobs and here's what I can tell you I've learned from that. Just how hard so many people work to make a living for their families. And I think that's really important for especially members of Congress, who we fly back and forth from our district to spend time in Washington, DC, where people throw around acronyms as if everybody knows what that means and throw out words like reconciliation as if everybody knows what that means.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

And the reality is that people are just working hard to support their families, to be proud of the work that they do to put out a good product, to do things like build John Deere combines and the planters, and just really work hard. And that helps me have a great appreciation for just the working man and woman and make sure that I'm doing right by them. So as I said, today will be my 106th.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Then something else I've been doing since I was first elected is we call it Supermarket Saturday. All that means is I go to the grocery store and I will go up to people, anybody I make eye contact with, and that doesn't look like they're in a terrible hurry. And I say, I'm Cheri Bustos. I'll be flying back out to Washington next week. What do you want me to know? And it's amazing what you'll learn from just everyday people when it's not a town hall and nobody's on display or trying to show off, and you just have a one-on-one conversation with people. And those couple of things have really, really helped me never lose sight of the 711,000 people who I represent in this congressional district.

 

Jon Doggett:

So you must have had some interesting experiences in both of these things, but just tell me what's the most interesting thing you heard or the most interesting thing you've learned while you were doing the Supermarket Saturdays, you've had to have interacted with a lot of people. What kind of struck you or what was the oh gosh moment or gee, I didn't ever think about it.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

You know, a question that I like to ask and I always ask open-ended questions. I don't want just to hear a yes or a no answer. Again, back to my journalism training, that's what you do to get stories. And both my Cherie on Shifts and my Supermarket Saturdays, I like to ask people what they do for fun. The reason I ask that is everybody's got some story about what they do for fun, right? But it gets to people's disposable income and sometimes I'll ask a followup question about, depending on how they answer that question is, have you been able to take a vacation, have you been able to get away with your family at all? And again, that gets to people's disposable income. And I will tell you one of the things that I just can't forget, and it's emblematic of a lot of these conversations I've had, but it was a conversation I had with a home care nurse who said she was married to someone who works for one of the cities and they had two young daughters.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

I asked that question about what they like to do for fun. She said, we have cable television. And that struck me immediately that, something that just so many of us take for granted that we have cable, or we maybe in some cases now, I know we have cable cutters, but people who have Netflix or HBO or whatever. And so I said, do you not like to go to the movies? And she said, well, by the time we buy tickets for the four of us and soda and popcorn, we can't afford to do that. So they were left with the exciting part of her life being the fact that they have cable television. And so as soon as she said that to me, my thought is that, gosh, something that so many of us just take for granted that we have cable television and we can watch it for entertainment, but we have other great opportunities.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

So I said to her, are you able to take vacations or anything? She said, no, they couldn't do that. And again, what's going through my mind is, this family, who worked hard, home care nurse. Her husband works for the city who worked hard every single day. They have to settle for watching The Disney Channel as opposed to going to a place like Disney World. And so I would say that that summarizes my takeaway from the conversations that I have, again, people who work very, very hard and just how hard it is to get ahead. Things that so many of us take for granted that we could perhaps go to Wisconsin Dells or go down to a St Louis Cardinals game or a Cubs game, but something that so many of us can do. There are also so many who cannot. And I would say those are the people who, when I go out to Washington and I take out my little card to vote yes or no on a piece of legislation, those are the people that I keep in mind and picture and make sure that I'm voting right by them.

 

Jon Doggett:

Thank you for telling that story. That's a great story. And it's emblematic of your time in Congress. And one of the reasons that you've been so effective, and one of the reasons we're just delighted to have you here, as people know the national corn growers association honored the Congresswoman with our 2021 president's award, and it's given each year to a leader that's a champion of our issues. And there's an issue right now that we're very much working on. And it's the bill that the Congresswoman recently introduced the Next Generation Fuels Act and introduced with bipartisan support and Congresswoman on behalf of NCGA again and again, thank you for your leadership on ethanol and not surprisingly, this is a big deal for us. So why is ethanol important to you?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

It's a big deal to me as well, just to share a little bit more about this district that I've represented now for five terms, not only do we have those nearly 10,000 family farms, but it's worth noting that they grow more than one and a half million acres of corn. And as you know, 40% of our domestic corn product goes toward ethanol production. So on top of that, we have seven biofuel refineries in and around our congressional district. So when I think of ethanol, when I think of the Next Generation Fuels Act, I think of the jobs that are created as a result of that for the seven biofuels plants in our congressional district. I think of these nearly 10,000 family farms and the people who do the work on those farms, who depend on a robust ethanol market to make sure that they can maintain their livelihoods. Again, back to the hard workers.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

And I think about increasingly the environmental benefits of using more renewable fuels in our transportation sector. I think about greenhouse gas emissions, that we can improve on that through corn based ethanol, because it burns about 40% less than unblended gasoline. So if you look at all of those benefits, creating jobs, opening up opportunities for our family farmers, driving down carbon emissions, all of that happens if we can get the Next Generation Fuels Act passed. And so this is an opportunity that we have, and I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to get this passed. And I would love to be able to get the signed into law and make this part of how we do business going forward.

 

Jon Doggett:

Explain just a little bit more, what does the Next Generation Fuels Act do and why, you talked about the environmental benefits. Certainly it's a great benefit to corn farmers, but what else does it do that people need to know?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

So the Next Generation Fuels Act, it would actually require vehicle makers to use higher octane fuels to certify any new vehicles that are coming off of the manufacturers lot. That they would have to certify them for emission and fuel economy standards. Okay. So what does that mean? So we start out with a 95 research octane number, the RON, I think your listeners all know what RON means and E20 blend for the model year 2026. And then we actually boost that up to 98 RON and E25 or E30 blend by model year 2031. All right.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

So on top of that, the bill also requires that fuel retailers carry these higher blend fuels. So they're widely available in the marketplace. That will be absolutely critical. We know that this bill has the potential to usher in new standards of high-octane low carbon liquid fuels. And why that matters is, again, for those reasons that I already mentioned, but by allowing more ethanol to get into the marketplace, we're fortifying an important market for our corn growers. We're shoring up our renewable fuel sector and we're driving down greenhouse gas emissions. So again, this is something that's critically important that we move this through.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, a lot of folks, the legislative process, it's a mystery to most Americans. So take us through the process of what happens next. You introduced the bill, you had some of your colleagues join you on that bill. What's the next step that we need to know? And how do corn farmers help you move that bill through those steps?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Actually writing a piece of legislation is the easy part, because what happens next is you've got to get support. So we have already introduced this bill. And as you mentioned, Jon, it is bipartisan. And so it will get referred next. Since I introduce it in the House, it will go to a house committee and that is decided by the House Parliamentarian. And in the case of the Next Generation Fuels Act, it's been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee. So now that it's been referred, we need to get the attention of the Energy and Commerce members and the leadership on that committee. With the hope of that, eventually we will hold a hearing on it. And during that hearing, we will invite in witnesses and we'll invite in stakeholder organizations. We'll make sure that the federal government comes in and testifies about the legislation and why it's important.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Then from there we'll work to move to get it included in what's called a legislative vehicle. So there are not a ton of standalone bills that we vote on in the house floor. So if we can find another larger bill and include this as part of it, where let's say you've got some members from more urban areas who don't know that much about ethanol, then we are more likely to get their support. If it's attached to some other legislation that they are supportive of. And as far as what your members can do to help talk to whoever your member of Congress is, talk to your senators, talk about why this is important that we pass this through, and that's really kind of citizen lobbying, citizen government relations. That really can be very, very helpful to get a piece of legislation all the way through.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon, for the National Corn Growers Association, the Next Generation Fuels Act is something that you've been hoping for and working for and putting the shoe leather down to make happen for a real long time now. Why has this been such a priority for NCGA and why should corn farmers care? And maybe even start getting a little bit excited about this?

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, they need to get excited about it. We're all about corn grind. And this is a piece of legislation that will grind more corn. And that benefits corn growers, that benefits our environment. It has a lot of benefits, but you know, the most important thing from our standpoint is it's going to grind more corn. And that's our mission is to expand opportunities for corn growers. And this is just one of those really good opportunities for us to do just that.

 

Dusty Weis:

When you look at it, Jon, from your position, working for the NCGA and having spent a lot of time in Washington, it's got to be heartening for you to see Representative Bustos, not only championing this issue, but also building bipartisan support for it. Bipartisan, that's not a word that we hear out of Washington a whole lot these days.

 

Jon Doggett:

Unfortunately, it isn't a word that we hear much about in Washington. And that's unfortunate. I came to Washington back in the late 80s and Ronald Reagan was president. He famously talked about the loaf of bread. If he could have half a loaf and the other guy got a half a loaf, then they could get a deal and they could come back the next day. Unfortunately, the way Washington works now is not only should you not get half a loaf, you shouldn't get any loaf at all, and we need to burn your bakery down.

 

Jon Doggett:

Sorry, Congresswoman, I'm not referring to the one that you're going to be at, but it's not give half to the other guy. I'd rather have nothing than you have anything. And that attitude is really unfortunate. And you know, when people tell me, Washington is divided and I say, well, why is that? Is it because maybe we don't send enough folks like the Congresswoman to Washington that want to work in a bipartisan fashion. So again, Congresswoman, a shout out to you for reaching across the aisle and getting other members of Congress to take a look at this and to agree to help us out in this rather arduous process.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Well, I appreciate that. And back to your point about bipartisanship, there's not enough of it. I actually asked my staff to look back over all of my previous terms to look at the number of bills that we've introduced and how many of those are bipartisan on day one. And literally I have just a handful, just a small number, that on day one of the introduction of our bill that was not supported by a friend across the aisle, and that's important. And to get this all the way through, I mean Democrats are in the majority right now, but we literally have a three vote majority. So you think about that. It's very, very hard to have success. If we think we're going to go it alone and in the end, legislation is better off if you can get support from Republicans and Democrats, and that's what we're going to try to do on this bill. And that's what I've tried to do on 95% plus of the bills that I've introduced from day one.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, you are in a long, long line of members of Congress that I've gotten to know through the years that have frankly disappointed me because you decided to leave and you are going to be leaving at the end of this term. And first of all, let me say again, thank you for all that you have done for the corn industry. And thank you for what you've done for this country. You have been a good moderate voice. You have reached across the aisle. You have been very political at times, which is part of your job, but you also have really puts your constituents first. And we just don't have enough good friends in Washington like you. And we're going to be sad to see it go. So let me ask it this, rather than beating up on Washington, even more, we might get another chance at that. But what stands out to you after 10 years? What are some of your favorite moments while you've been serving in Congress?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Wow. You know, I have so many, I'll do a shout out. You mentioned sports early on in my introduction. I'm just going to mention something very light to kind of lighten this conversation. Since we were talking about bipartisanship and our disappointment that there's not more of it, but here's a good bipartisan story. I play on the congressional women's softball team. There are probably some of your listeners who had no idea that there was a congressional women's softball team, and you might know that there was a congressional men's baseball team, but this is something I've played on since I was first elected. We have practice early in the morning, two to three days a week for months, we typically start in March with our practices and we do all this practicing to play one game. And that says a little bit about our athletic ability, but on our team, here's what's different between the men's game and the women's game on our team.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

We have Democrats and Republicans, House members and senators, younger and older. And the one game that we play, it's a charity game. We raise money for young women with breast cancer, but our one game that we play, we play against the women's Washington Press Corps, and we play on an elementary school lot. And we have raised well over a million dollars for this cause just to maybe do a little bit of shout-out for my own gender. The men's team, they can't even come together in sports. They play Democrats against Republicans. And the other thing is they get to play at the nationals major league ballpark while we're playing on this elementary school lot. So just kind of so much symbolism in that, but the reason I bring that up as one of my... Just again, it's light, but I have built some really, really close relationships with friends across the aisle as a result of sports.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

For instance, Shelley Moore Capito, the Senator who was trying to work out the infrastructure deal early on. She's a Republican from West Virginia. She's our third baseman. I'm our shortstop, Debbie Wasserman Schultz who ran the Democratic National Committee. She's the second baseman and our first baseman for actually every year until this year, was a woman named Martha Roby out of Alabama. A Republican out of Alabama. Our pitcher is Kiersten Gillibrand, a Democratic Senator from New York and our catcher for many seasons was Joni Ernst, a Republican Senator from Iowa. So that just gives you an idea on the infield of who we have.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

And it really is a way that you build relationships when you're showing up to practice early in the morning, you've barely combed your hair. I brush my teeth and put on my sweatpants and head out there and you get to know people in a very different way. I share that with you because I think it's really important that if we can get back to the point where we get to know the members of Congress as human beings, rather just as politicians and somebody of the other party, I think we'd be a lot better off. And that's one way that I've been able to build those relationships and really see a side benefit to being able to get some good legislation through as a result of that.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know Representative, I have to ask shortstop, that's a very highly sought after position. And I know that in Congress, there can be a lot of jockeying, a lot of elbowing for position for the prime committee assignments. I'm presuming that the prime infield assignments are a lot the same. Did you have to trot out that you were a member of the Illinois College Sports Hall of Fame to qualify for that position? Or how did that work?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

I will say that the reason I have played shortstop every season is I actually know how to throw a ball. And I know how to field. I grew up in a baseball family. My brother played college baseball. He was a pitcher for University of New Orleans and for a Quincy College now called Quincy University and then was actually drafted to play professionally and then coached for 21 seasons in division one baseball. My dad was a college baseball player and then ended up his career working in government relations for Major League Baseball.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

So I come from a baseball family and believe me when you come to Congress, we don't have a whole lot of athletes, we don't have a whole lot of former college athletes either. So I have to say the competition wasn't horribly, horribly stiff for that position, but I am moving to first base this season. It will be the first time I haven't been the shortstop and I'm doing that because our former first baseman ended up not running for reelection and I'm tall and my legs are long and my arms are long. Again, I can catch the ball. So I'm going to play first base this season, and I'm looking forward to it.

 

Jon Doggett:

Let me ask this, did you get a chance to watch Field of Dreams?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

You know what? My sister sent me some clips from it. I couldn't watch the game live, but I love that it's gotten so much buzz and I love that I'm a neighboring state to Iowa. Anything that can help baseball grow more fans. And when you're talking about somebody coming from a cornfield, you know what, that's a win-win, everything's exciting about it.

 

Jon Doggett:

That was just a great, great game. So Congresswoman lastly, and I know you've answered this question over and over again, but what's next for Cheri Bustos?

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Well, I really haven't answered that over and over again because I'm still working through that myself. I am now down to saying no to some opportunities that are out there and that actually gives me a good feeling because it means I'm narrowing down different options, but I'm working on a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. And I'll let you know what's in those plans when I trim those up a little bit more, but I guess probably the main thing is I want to do something that is meaningful and I'm ready for this next chapter of my life and excited about it.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, I have no doubt that whatever the future holds you'll meet it with the same expertise and enthusiasm that you've brought to the Congress and to our issues. As we've worked with you throughout these years, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos from Illinois 17th district recipient of the NCGA president's award. Thank you for joining us on this conversation and thank you so much for all that you have done for the corn industry and for this great nation.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Thank you Jon, I appreciate it. Thank you Dusty for the opportunity. And please look at me as I'm not just your friend for the next 16 months, which is, my term will end on January 3rd, 2023, but from here on out, I believe in what you're doing. I want you to be successful and I hope I can be part of the solution and hopefully never part of the problem.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, thanks again. And we will definitely take you up on that.

 

Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Thank you, Jon.

 

Jon Doggett:

So with that, I'm, NCGA CEO, Jon Doggett, and we hope you'll join us again for the next episode of Wherever Jon May Roam the National Corn Growers Association podcast.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive monthly. So make sure you subscribe on your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit ncga.com to learn more or sign up for the association's email newsletter, Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association with editing by Doug Russell and production oversight by Larry Kilgore III. It's produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com. For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

 

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