Not So Fast

Authentic grassroots advocacy has more power than any lobbyist, writes Brian Jennings of ACE. Big Oil lobbyists were ready to celebrate the rewriting of the RFS but "power by people" won the day.
By Brian Jennings | December 09, 2014

I frequently remind members of the American Coalition for Ethanol that they are the best ethanol lobbyists. For the cynics out there, I don’t say this to make people feel good. I say it because it’s the truth. 

Before joining the ethanol industry, I worked for a U.S. senator on Capitol Hill.  During that time, we met with thousands of people on energy and agriculture issues, from lobbyists sporting cuff-links and polished wingtip shoes to constituents with dirt under their fingernails and scuffs on their boots.  (Digression: I’m a lobbyist. No cuff-links, but I confess to a pair of shiny shoes. It’s all the rage to condemn lobbyists, but we have an important job to do. Just like any other profession, some lobbyists are overpaid and not very effective; others are pretty darn good at their jobs). While the farmers with dirt under their fingernails and ranchers with scuffs or other stuff on their boots who we met with didn’t know what a quorum call is, they knew how the decisions we made in Washington, D.C., would impact their families, neighbors and communities. Their personal experiences were persuasive. The lobbyist’s talking points were not.

We need look no further for evidence that authentic grassroots advocacy can overcome a horde of overpaid lobbyists than to the U.S. EPA’s decision before Thanksgiving to reconsider its proposed reduction of the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

While there were rumblings, we had scored some points in trying to deter EPA from its indiscriminate cuts, most of the signs pointed to EPA taking an unprecedented (and probably unlawful) approach to changing the RFS. Big Oil lobbyists thought they had bullied the Obama administration into completely rewriting the 2014 RFS so oil companies could escape their legal responsibility to offer fuels like E15 and E85 to consumers. With feet kicked up on their desks, oil lobbyists were on the verge of uncorking the champagne. But you didn’t give up, and in the words of Lee Corso on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” EPA said “not so fast” to Big Oil. Thanks to your letters, comments and emails to EPA, your phone calls to members of Congress and your support of ACE, grassroots advocacy prevailed, if even temporarily. EPA announced it would reconsider its ill-advised plan to reduce the RFS based on the so-called blend wall. Instead, the agency said it would finalize the 2014 standard in 2015, when it will also announce plans for setting the 2015 and 2016 blending volumes.

It’s a case of “power by people” overcoming Big Oil’s war chest. ACE and others asked you to write EPA and tell them your story about why the RFS is important. Many of you told the administration about how ethanol has reenergized your hometowns. Others discussed the jobs and economic benefits of ethanol. A lot of you emphasized the clean air benefits of ethanol or the legislative history of the RFS. It worked. The White House and EPA realized their proposal would hurt rural America, cause pain at the pump for consumers and send innovation in advanced biofuels overseas. They also appear to have recognized their method for changing the RFS was inconsistent with legislative history and the Clean Air Act.

I jest at Big Oil lobbyists being on the verge of uncorking champagne, but our short-term victory is no cause for celebration. At this stage, it isn’t entirely clear if EPA will abandon its flawed blend-wall methodology for setting future RFS volumes. The 114th Congress is sworn in this month and calls from those oil lobbyists to repeal the RFS will intensify. Powered by people persuasive and authentic, like you, ACE stands ready to reengage EPA and work with the new Congress to ensure the RFS serves as a tool to provide market access for higher blends of ethanol.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol