VOLNEY — U.S. Rep. John Katko addressed concerned farmers and manufacturers Tuesday at the Attis Innovations ethanol production facility in Volney and claimed confidence in the region’s future in manufacturing and farming.
Katko, R-Camillus, was on hand at the facility as the latest political figure in the Government Relations speaker series put on by the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY). The congressman addressed concerns arising from legislation motivated by climate change and improved working standards.
“Manufacturing is alive and well in upstate New York and it can get a heck of a lot better if we keep giving them the tools to do it with,” Katko said, noting fair trade agreements with other nations such as Canada, China and Mexico can ramp up production and profits. “Tax reform has really helped them, administrative reform has really helped them and now if we can get a trade deal fixed we can really set manufacturing in a really good pace.”
One of the bills that could affect the manufacturing industry is New York State’s “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”
Signed into law earlier this summer by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the legislation lays the groundwork for one of the most ambitious plans in the world for transitioning to renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions to net-zero status.
The law calls for an 85 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2050, with the remaining 15 percent to be offset by carbon sequestration.
Katko expressed some doubt in the claims made by the bill; however, he praised Attis Innovations as a “forward-looking” company that is aiming to reduce carbon emissions.
Attis Innovations is a bio-products company owned by parent company Attis Industries that in June purchased the ethanol plant and the 1886 Malt House — previously owned by motor fuels distributor Sunoco — for $20 million.
“Attis is aspiring to do that,” Katko said. “They want to do things that are forward-looking. Everyone should accept the fact that climate change is a reality and the sooner we can transition from fossil fuels to clean-burning energy the better.”
Attis Industries President Gregory Pilewicz said the company is planning on eventually building a “green-tech campus.” One of the company’s planned expansion projects, he added, is the production of biodiesel fuels, which come from wood biomass extracted from thinning forestry residues in the vicinity.
“That's why we bought it, to expand it,” Pilewicz said. “It is going to be manufacturing. It is going to be other refinery-type plants. We can take plants down here and turn them into biodiesel fuel.”
Pilewicz said the project is still in the planning phase.
“Part of it is raising the capital for it, so we are in the process of doing that,” he said. “I fully believe we will be operational within two years.”
Katko said while the low emissions claim made in the bill seems “far away given current technologies,” nuclear power plants should be a part of a “realistic approach” that doesn’t “destroy the economy in the process.”
“If (the governor is) expecting us to get to where he wants to be in 2050, I don't think it makes sense without taking a more realistic approach and I think nuclear should be part of that,” Katko said. “If we want to start carbon-free emissions, that is one very strong proponent. But also, there are other things they have in Oswego County that can help as well. It is all hands on deck.”
Owning an ethanol producing facility, Pilewicz said the company supports regulations such as the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a program regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring fuel sold in the U.S. to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ethanol, which is a renewable fuel derived from corn and other plant materials that meet the RFS, is used in more than 98 percent of gasoline in the country. Ethanol most commonly makes up 10 percent of standard fuel, though regulators with the EPA have recently pushed for the standard to become 15 percent, allowing the “E15” gas to be sold year round.
“Absolutely the RFS is something we absolutely support, and we need to see Congress and Congressman Katko support it as well,” Pilewicz said, noting the blend would help both corn producers and ethanol manufacturers alike. “It helps the farmers and obviously the ethanol industry. The RFS is very important for all of us. Growth depends on it.”
Another piece of legislation that could affect farmers and manufacturers is the "Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act," signed earlier this year by Gov. Cuomo. The act gives farm workers a slate of protections enjoyed by workers designated as “employees” by the National Labor Relations Act since the New Deal.
Local farmers say the bill will hurt New York’s farms, especially small and family farms, by placing restrictions out of step with the realities of the agriculture industry.
County Legislator Morris Sorbello, who owns and operates Sorbello and Sons Farms in Fulton, told The Palladium-Times in June that 60-hour work week limitations, included in the protections granted to farm laborers, might force his farm to cut hours from workers who would otherwise consent to work above the overtime threshold.
Pilewicz said Attis will “do anything we can” to help local farmers.
“We took ownership of this plant two months ago,” he said. “We are barely getting to know these farmers, what their challenges are and how we can grow together. We think the growth in renewable fuels will support them and help them, and there are a lot of things that the state of New York is going to have to do also to make those farmers be successful."