‘The best lobbyists aren’t really lobbyists’

Participants in ACE's annual fly-in don't need to be professional lobbyists, writes Brian Jennings. This column appears in the March issue of EPM.
By Brian Jennings | February 11, 2016

Shortly after enactment of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) in Congress, the American Coalition for Ethanol began to organize annual grassroots fly-ins to help educate policymakers in Washington, D.C., about the importance of the renewable fuels industry. 

This year will mark the eighth annual ACE fly-in to the nation’s capital. We label our fly-in the “Biofuels Beltway March,” and as the name would suggest, we normally hold the event during the month of March. But because the 2016 congressional calendar includes an unusually timed Easter recess, we are hosting the fly-in April 13-14.

The goal of ACE’s fly-in is to help you tell your personal story to decision makers in DC and demonstrate the breadth and depth of grassroots support for renewable fuels policies.

During our 2015 fly-in, 70 people from all walks of life, including ethanol producers, gas station owners, college and high school students, corn growers, bankers, accountants, electric co-op employees, industry vendors and others shared their personal ethanol stories with more than 160 Members of Congress and top administration executives. The best advice these prior participants would offer to first timers is to wear comfortable shoes because we will put you through your paces.

While our initial fly-ins focused on Capitol Hill, more recently the event has reflected the fact that all three branches of government impact our industry. To be sure, the flashpoint for ethanol in Washington has been with the executive branch and courts. Whether it is EPA oversight of the RFS, Reid vapor pressure limits, and CAFE-GHG rules, the Federal Trade Commission’s new rule modifying pump labels, or USDA’s support of the Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership grants to the states, you can be sure that our fly-in will include federal agencies and issues relevant to your business. To cover the judicial branch, we will provide an update on the status of our pending lawsuit against EPA regarding their misinterpretation of the RFS general waiver authority.  Of course, we will schedule meetings with Congress, as it is imperative to keep educating them about our priorities, especially in an election year. We also expect to bring retailers who are selling higher ethanol blends to join us once again and share how they have new customers and profits because they’re selling E15 and flex fuels.

Whether you love or hate politics, have been to D.C. multiple times or never before, are an ACE member or not, I strongly encourage you to join us in the nation’s capital. You don’t need to be a professional lobbyist to take part in this event. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience that the best lobbyists aren’t really lobbyists at all. The most persuasive and effective spokespeople for our industry are real people, whose everyday life experiences and authenticity illustrates how the decisions made in Washington, D.C., impact their businesses and communities. 

If you’ve taken part in previous ACE fly-ins, please join us again in 2016 and encourage a colleague, board member, or employee to come along. If you haven’t participated, there is no more important time to help protect your ethanol investment and see first-hand how your membership support of ACE makes a strong and positive difference inside the Beltway. It’s vitally important for us to show policymakers that people from all walks of life care about the future of renewable fuels. 

There is no registration fee to attend, although participants are asked to cover their own travel expenses to and while in Washington. Our staff will schedule all meetings on your behalf, prepare you for those meetings, and provide background material you can leave in each congressional office.  Our fly-in headquarters will be The Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill; this is where we will hold group briefings before Hill visits and host meetings with EPA, USDA, and others. For more information about the event, please contact Shannon Gustafson, ACE Director of Strategic Projects, at sgustafson@ethanol.org or 605-334-3381, ext. 16.

If you need just a bit more encouragement, the cherry blossoms will likely be in full bloom April 13-14, during the event. I hope to see you in Washington then.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol