Year of the Rat, or Perhaps the Scapegoat

By Bob Dinneen | November 03, 2008
Chinese culture names each new year after an animal believed to best represent what that year will hold. This past year (ending Jan. 25, 2009, according to the Chinese zodiac calendar) was the Year of the Rat. The rat is a revered animal, thought to be courageous, clever and bright. It is also believed that enterprises begun in a rat year may not yield immediate returns, but those who are patient will see success.

This is a fitting description of the year endured by America's ethanol industry. Despite new beginnings—implementing a new renewable fuels standard, building increased ethanol infrastructure, moving to higher ethanol blends, developing new ethanol technologies—it will take time to yield returns. Patience is a virtue familiar to this industry.

I offer that 2008 could very easily be characterized by another mythical animal: the scapegoat. America's ethanol producers have been blamed for everything from the rising price of food to global warming to the price of gummy bears in Germany.

Headline after headline and CNBC interview after CNBC interview proclaimed that ethanol was all hype. They said it was little more than snake oil, delivering none of the benefits promised while making milk more expensive and starving children in Africa. Overheated rhetoric, dubious science, scurrilous accusations and even one claim that ethanol was a "crime against humanity" came to define the attacks from anti-ethanol voices.

Under such a relentless, well-funded and coordinated attack, lesser industries might have given way to the pressure. This industry did not.
Redoubling our efforts and steeling our resolve, America's ethanol industry fought back against its detractors, pointing out their inaccuracies, exposing their tactics and calling them out when their hypocrisy became too much to bear. This industry went on the offensive to defend itself from these baseless attacks that were designed for the sole purpose of deceiving the public and turning Americans against farmers and ethanol producers.

American ethanol producers were not the only ones engaged in this fight. Our friends in Canada, Europe, Brazil and even India have joined with us in defending the global future of this industry.

We would be remiss if we did not recognize the brave souls on Capitol Hill and in Washington, D.C., who stood steadfastly with this industry during the worst of the storm. Sen.
Chuck Grassley, Rep. Collin Peterson, Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, USDA Secretary Ed Schafer and President George W. Bush all remained committed to America's renewable fuels industry. Absent their unwavering support, this industry would be in far more dire straights.

To be clear, the fight isn't over. Corn prices are down, but they won't stay there forever. Concerns about water use, carbon emissions, food prices, eco-diversity and global warming will be areas of focus in the next Congress and administration. With the federal budget constraints that will likely be in place, tax incentives, tariffs and other public policies will come under increased scrutiny and attack.

As the Chinese believe and is true of this industry, the progress we achieved in the Year of the Rat will yield results, but will take some time. Whether you believe 2008 was the Year of the Rat or the Scapegoat, one thing remains certain: The success and future of America's ethanol industry is directly associated with our ability to forcefully and coherently speak with the same voice.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the RFA!

Bob Dinneen
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association