Take Back the Message

By Mike Bryan | July 08, 2009
One might be forgiven for thinking ethanol is a scam if their only source of reference is mainstream media. Not very long ago, NBC news said ethanol is a hoax of gigantic proportions being perpetrated on the American public. Reliable sources such as the Wall Street Journal, radio talk shows, and newspapers across the country have all targeted ethanol, usually with the word "boondoggle" somewhere in the lead.

There is not much good press about ethanol. Yet, an objective tally of ethanol's benefits reads like a wish list for environmentalists: it is clean, produced domestically, and is completely renewable. Most importantly, the ethanol industry doesn't rely on imported oil. Simply put, ethanol is the only domestic liquid fuel that we have.

Somewhere along the line, the ethanol industry lost control of the message. We have allowed others outside of our industry to set our research agenda, define the terms of our debate, and mischaracterize our political activities. From production to distribution to promotion, we have failed at delivering our message to the American public.

Who is saying these things? The larger question is: what precipitated these negative stories and commentary? Why has ethanol gone from a boom to a bust in the eyes of many?

I would submit to you that our image is the root of our problem; food versus fuel, land use, starving people, high food prices, the marginalization of women in third world countries—all have been attributed to ethanol's influence on the economy.

It's time we understand who profits by our pain. The food versus fuel "debate" was not really perpetuated by the grocery industry as we all think; land use theory was not perpetuated by American farmers, or even farmers in other countries; energy efficiency was not something that a Cornell professor dreamed up because he didn't have enough to do on the weekend.

Someone paid him for that study. Someone drove the message that ethanol has a negative energy balance. Someone coordinated with the grocery industry to create the food versus fuel "debate."

The best way to create controversy surrounding ethanol is not to attack it on its merits. Rather, it is to divide and conquer. Our competition has done this by pitting the environmentalists' interests against the perceived interests of "Big Ethanol." It makes for a good story, but fiction is always the opposite of truth.

The solution is to stop being reactionary and take back the message.

It's time for us to become involved as individuals in this industry—to understand the issues and be willing to stand up and be counted. It's time for each of us to go down to the local newspaper or radio station and talk to them. Educate yourself on the issues and know enough about what you are talking about. Changing ethanol's image won't begin with lobbyists on K Street, but with regular people on Main Street. We are the people we've been waiting for. It's time for us to act.

That's the way I see it.

Mike Bryan
Publisher & CEO
mbryan@bbiinternational.com