Call to Action

We need to prioritize and devise a plan utilizing all the talents in the ethanol industry to overcome the roadblocks to greater market access. This Clearing the Air column appears in the January 2017 print edition of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Dave VanderGriend | December 22, 2016

Last November, I flew to India, a country suffering with some of the worst air pollution in the world. You can see smog hanging over cities like a blanket. I was there because India wants to increase its ethanol blending from E2.5 to E22. I thought about the hurdles it will encounter moving toward that goal, but, I realized if India wants to make it happen, it can be done, as it has in Brazil, Paraguay, Thailand and other countries using the same cars that we drive right here at home.

The United States, fortunately, has cleaned up much of its visual smog, but just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean many pollutants aren’t there. So, I started to think, what would it take to get the U.S. back to a leadership position in biofuel blending instead of just being an E10 follower? The simple answer is: to be able to put any ethanol blend into any car, from any pump. 

Now, I know saying it is much easier than getting it done. But it does take us out of the box everyone tries to put us in and allows us to ask the question, why not? Every regulation, every rule making, every warning sticker is a made-up box that we find ourselves struggling to get out of. 

The U.S. EPA finally allowing corn ethanol to meet the maximum of 15 billion gallons annually is certainly good news. At the same time, it is somewhat sobering, as this is as good as it will get in terms of what the renewable fuels standard (RFS) can provide as a demand driver. By 2022, when the RFS enters its next phase, the ethanol industry could be at 130 percent of current production, with supply exceeding demand. This could cause RIN and ethanol pricing to decline, if we are trading only in a fixed market.

It is no secret I have been ringing the alarm bell that we need to look beyond the RFS. Our blueprint for long-term success requires us to develop a future in which ethanol is given full access to the market and, in so doing, receives its full value for being a quality fuel.

This is where we may be able to capitalize on the new administration and a new attitude in Washington. Removing the dozens of unnecessary and burdensome regulations that thwart higher blends and infrastructure investment is a message that is well-received. Ethanol’s tried and true benefits of local job creation, agricultural benefits, energy independence, engine performance, low carbon and cleaner air have never been better positioned to flourish in a free market.

If you are like me, you want to see a plan to make this happen. I wrote a white paper in 2015 in which I offered a number of specifics. But as Urban Air gets deeper into the issues of ASTM, terminals, retailers, certification fuels, lifecycle analysis, emission testing and fuel studies, our list of unnecessary regulations has grown significantly. Then the question I ask myself is what does a free market look like and how do I know I’m there?

I look at our industry groups at the national and state levels and see so much talent. I am committed in 2017 to continue working with each of these groups and call us to action around creating an extensive list of all the roadblocks limiting a free market. We can then prioritize them, split them up according to our talents and eliminate them. 

I have been in the situation many times, where politicians will ask what they can do for the industry. But I have yet to be able to hand them a comprehensive plan coming from a unified industry on how to get ethanol to a free market. Frankly, get us onto a level playing field, then the government can get out of the way and let us compete.

2017 is the year for the industry to pull together and grow beyond our dependence on D.C. We can take control of our own destiny by truly gaining access to a free market in which the consumer can choose the best fuel. If we are allowed to compete, ethanol will win.

Author: David VanderGriend
President, Urban Air Initiative, CEO, ICM Inc.