Resilience in the Face of Opposition

By Mike Bryan | July 15, 2010
It seems that everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown at the ethanol industry and yet it continues to make great progress. Food vs. fuel, land use, delays in adopting E15, environmental groups suggesting that ethanol use encourages greater oil use in other countries, Brazilian imports, just to name a few.

The resiliency of this industry never ceases to amaze me. A major contributing factor to that resiliency resides in the type of people who have built it. While clearly the farm sector has been a significant contributor and it is by nature resilient, other private business people have also shown an impressive ability to keep strong and focused in an environment that may crush others. Often it's more than profit; for many, it's the community, and the sense of building something important that is the primary driver.

If it's only about the money, then at the first sign of resistance, the money people cash in their chips and go home. This is, perhaps, one of the fundamental differences between the ethanol industry and most other industries in America. We truly believe that what we are doing is the right thing to do, at the right time in history.

It seems like the harder the ethanol industry is pushed, the harder it pushes back. Resistance has always seemed to strengthen our resolve rather than weaken it. I can never forget the regulatory negotiations that followed the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. Two people from the Renewable Fuels Association and one from the National Corn Growers Association sat facing the refining industry, the automobile industry, the petroleum marketers associations, several national environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lawyers two and three deep sat behind each of the groups, the only empty seats were behind the RFA and the NCGA. While we didn't win every battle, we prevailed against enormous odds.

The comparatively simple things of the '80s—such as ethanol will hurt your car—eventually gave way to a whole host of far more complex issues as we entered the '90s. The industry had to prove ethanol's merit time and time again. I have lost count of the number of studies done—demonstrating that ethanol production has a net energy gain; defending ethanol against charges of increased levels of NOx; researching permeation issues that could cause higher evaporative emissions—spending millions of dollars on research and air shed modeling to demonstrate ethanol's superiority as an environmentally friendly fuel. The allegations came at the industry like a never-ending river of doubt.

Now of course, the new flood of allegations includes food vs. fuel and land use. More studies, more research, more press releases and more editorials. While at times it almost forced us to our knees, we fought back against opponents that were more powerful, had deeper pockets, and those who seemed undaunted by stretching the truth to its breaking point.

I'm proud of the success of this industry and the people who created it and who every day step up to the plate to fight another battle. It may still be a David and Goliath story, but David has gotten a whole lot tougher.

That's the way I see it!