Stay Vigilant

FROM THE MAY ISSUE: ACE's Brian Jennings discusses the importance of paying attention and remaining active in ethanol advocacy.
By Brian Jennings | April 19, 2018

As Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, addressed the 70 members of the American Coalition for Ethanol during our recent Washington, D.C., fly-in, her message was clear: “Stay vigilant.” Ernst would know. She’s been on the front lines for us as recent debates over the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard have consumed leaders in the White House and Congress.

ACE launched its fly-in 10 years ago, shortly after Congress enacted the RFS, because we understood refiners would fight to derail it from disrupting their profitable status quo. Over the past 10 years, nearly 300 unique grassroots individuals from 28 states have attended ACE fly-ins, participating in hundreds of Capitol Hill meetings and speaking with officials from the White House, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What sets ACE advocacy apart is our grassroots members are the center of attention. We position the farmers, investors, plant employees, retailers selling E15 and higher blends, students and industry venders as the spokespeople for ethanol in the nation’s capital. Why? Because their authenticity makes a positive difference as we fight to protect the RFS and pursue new policies to increase ethanol use.

The timing of this year’s fly-in was fortuitous, amid talk of “win-win” deals for refiners and biofuel producers and a snowstorm that put the citizens of D.C. on edge. Our goal was to reframe the discussion away from a debate over renewable identification number (RIN) prices by putting a human face on the importance of increasing ethanol use. We were able to confront EPA over the importance of Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief for E15 and higher blends and how increasing the minimum octane of fuel can enable a pathway for consumers and automakers to benefit from blends in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 percent ethanol. Our members faced many opponents in Congress and educated them on the benefits of ethanol. Just as important, our members thanked many supporters in Congress for remaining vigilant.

We also helped explain for decision-makers how refiners, already floating on a sea of cash, have been racking up the wins lately. From approving oil pipelines to forgiving refiners for RIN obligations to granting small refiners exemptions from the RFS, how many more wins does Washington need to hand refiners before EPA or Congress finally lifts the outdated RVP restriction on year-round E15 sales?

We know the best way to spur market-based demand for farmers and improve the rural economy is through increasing ethanol use. Now more than ever, rural America needs a boost. Farmers are facing their fifth year of corn prices at or below the cost of production. USDA forecasts 2018 net farm income will sink to its lowest level in 12 years. According to the Federal Reserve, farm debt is approaching its highest level since the 1980s farm crisis. Now is not the time to mess with the RFS. Our leaders need to be focusing on how to increase demand for corn and renewable fuels.

To that end, during a meeting with EPA, the topic of high-octane fuel was front and center. This is timely, given EPA is planning to revise the greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for 2022 to 2025 model year automobiles. American-made ethanol is the lowest-cost source of octane on the planet. What’s more, research by the U.S. Department of Energy to find the most promising fuel to help automakers comply with future GHG standards shows ethanol ranks the highest. 

We were also encouraged EPA seems open to our suggestion that it should adopt the U.S. Department of Energy “GREET” model to assess the life-cycle analysis of corn ethanol. State regulators and foreign countries developing low-carbon fuel programs rely upon EPA’s outdated (2010) analysis, which unfortunately limits the GHG reduction benefits of U.S. corn ethanol. This harms the competitiveness of U.S. ethanol in global trade. We urged EPA to adopt the latest GREET analysis, which shows corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by nearly 50 percent compared to gasoline.

There is no shortage of priority issues for our industry in the nation’s capital and I am enormously grateful for the dedicated and passionate grassroots ethanol advocates who joined the ACE fly-in to make their voices heard.

Thank you for staying vigilant.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol