A panel of House Republicans criticized the Biden administration Tuesday for not investing more in biofuels as it seeks to boost domestic and renewable energy sources. 

During a hearing with USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small, GOP members of the House Ag Committee framed the issue around the U.S. ban on Russian oil and gas and the surging costs of ag inputs like fertilizer and diesel. They said the White House is creating inflationary pressures but not doing anything about them. 

"This administration promised our ethanol and biofuels producers the world during the campaign and has failed on every single point, and in turn, gas prices continue to soar and our farmers are left behind," said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. 

"They feel like they have no voice in this administration, and they feel like they're last in the pecking order," U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, said of the ethanol and biodiesel industries. 

Torres Small said she, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and President Joe Biden are focused on creating a "diverse portfolio that we need to be energy independent and resilient."

"And biofuels is a key part of that," Torres Small said. "And I hope the industry feels like they have a strong voice in rural development, because we've been focusing a lot of energy ... to making sure that we are investing in that exact type of local market that really creates resiliency both when it comes to energy but also on the ground."

Tuesday's push from Republicans, and from some Democrats on the committee, comes as most of them and other members of Congress have sent letters to the White House, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for year-round E15, more funding to boost production capacity and changes in federal blending requirements.

It also followed Biden's proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes "not one word about biofuels," according to Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa. 

"I get really concerned about that — How serious is the administration?" Feenstra said. 

Torres Small said Rural Development is committed to the "business side" of biofuels. EPA, she said, is the agency tasked with overseeing and administering the Renewable Fuel Standard and has the authority to regulate E15 sales.

"Although we're not the decision maker...we have a key opportunity to be there for biofuels producers in a few different ways," Torres Small said.

USDA launched the $700 million Biofuel Producer Program in late 2021 to pay ethanol and biodiesel producers who lost sales revenue during the height of the pandemic, when mitigations translated to lower consumer demand. 

The department also offered another $100 million in grants through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) to fund new biofuel infrastructure, like blender pumps, refueling and distribution facilities.

Torres Small said the application period for the Biofuel Producer Program ended in February, with funds to be awarded sometime in late spring or early summer. HBIIP will begin accepting applications this spring.

Committee members also took Torres Small to task over application backlogs to USDA's Rural Energy for America Program, which provides guaranteed loans and grants to farmers and small rural businesses for renewable energy systems. 

Torres Small said the program is oversubscribed and underfunded, with $40.5 million in grants allocated but another $30 million "in the wings waiting to be funded which we didn't have the money for." 

Rural Development will deploy more technical assistance for the program and ask for more funding in the 2023 farm bill, Torres Small added.