All in the Details

By Bob Dinneen | June 10, 2010
Success in Washington is often defined by the legislative victories achieved or the regulations avoided. While these victories are the ultimate goal, too often the detailed and frequently technical work that goes into assuring such victories is all but forgotten.

Despite this work being done out of the spotlight, and usually necessarily so, its importance to an industry with as much at stake as this one cannot be understated.

The effort to move beyond 10 percent ethanol blends is a perfect example. Much of the focus of this effort has been on the compatibility of the existing vehicle fleet in the U.S. with increased ethanol blends. Admittedly, this is very technical work and is at the core of whether the Environmental Protection Agency will approve E15.

Ensuring that billions of gallons of E15 are sold requires much more than a simple stamp of approval from EPA. Last month, the Renewable Fuels Association wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to address the issue of volatility in higher level ethanol blends. We asked EPA to extend the current 1 pound per square inch Reid Vapor Pressure waiver currently applicable to E10. Not front page fodder, but critical to paving the way for the acceptance and wide-spread use of higher level ethanol blends.

Assuming that EPA will continue to insist on its unjustified limiting of the E15 waiver to vehicle model year 2001 and newer, developing an appropriate label to prevent both misfueling as well as misinformation will be critical. The entire industry has engaged with EPA, the Federal Trade Commission, and other government entities to ensure that pump labels are clear but do not falsely alarm the driver about ethanol-blended fuel.

Other considerations such as a mid-level ethanol blend specification from ASTM and fire marshal approval of legacy fueling equipment are issues that must be addressed in order to increase ethanol's market share. So too are arcane issues like standard tables for ethanol blends corrected for temperature. None of these are marquee issues, yet failing to get them right would doom our efforts.

Fuel specifications are the not the only area of minutiae that are critical to ensuring the longevity and the reputation of America's ethanol industry. For instance, the RFA has worked closely with our friends in the grain business to respond to an OSHA proposal for new dust standards.

Environmental compliance issues are also critical, and the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico should heighten awareness about these concerns. Ensuring each ethanol plant is aware of its responsibilities, including having enough boom equipment in case of a spill (ironic, isn't it?), is essential to not only complying with our legal requirements but continuing to protect the safety of our neighbors in the communities in which we operate.

As many reading this column are likely attendees of the Fuel Ethanol Workshopand very detail-oriented to begin withthese efforts are nothing less than second nature to you. Nevertheless, it is good to remind ourselves of the importance of this work.

One pound per square inch here, or a millimeter of grain dust there, can make all difference between reaching our potential, and missing opportunities.