Annual Fly-in Exhausting But Energizing

By Brian Jennings | April 16, 2013

We recently concluded the American Coalition for Ethanol’s Fifth Annual Biofuels Beltway March Fly-in to Washington, D.C.  Over 50 grassroots leaders met with more than 120 congressional offices and top U.S. EPA officials in two days, showing and telling how the renewable fuel standard (RFS) is working and that E15 is a safe and new fuel choice that will save consumers a lot of money.

At the conclusion of every fly-in, I feel exhausted but energized.  Exhausted because we wear out a lot of shoe leather doing Capitol Hill visits.  Energized because I’m reminded each year that our industry’s most effective asset is our base of grassroots support.

People like Tim Van Der Wal, a banker and board director for Highwater Ethanol LLC, outside Lamberton, Minn., who told legislators he’s a first-hand witness to how ethanol plants create new business and jobs in rural communities and expand the local tax base.

A dairyman named Mark Thomas from Ohio, who farms in addition to milking cows (and has won multiple IHRA Funny Car National Racing Championships on E85), poked holes in the myth some livestock groups are trying to spin about ethanol.  Mark, a board member for the Ohio Corn Growers Association, was able to explain how, thanks to the RFS, there’s actually more corn for all end users and better quality feed for dairymen like him from the distillers grains, as a result.

And Scott McPheeters, a farmer and board member for KAAPA Ethanol LLC, near Minden, Neb., who enlightened legislators on the food and fuel issue, based on his experience raising food-grade corn for Frito Lay Inc. and No. 2 yellow corn for ethanol plants and livestock producers.

ACE organizes a fly-in each year because we recognize that, contrary to popular belief, the facts alone aren’t our best weapons in the fight to advance the priorities of the ethanol industry.  At ACE we believe how we deliver the facts is equally important when it comes to protecting the RFS or promoting E15.  We believe in humanizing ethanol and have confidence that grassroots advocates can deliver our facts in a more compelling way than traditional means.

Let me give you a larger-than-life example.  Remember the “God made a Farmer” Super Bowl ad by Dodge, featuring Paul Harvey’s voice and stirring still photos of farm and ranch life?  The ad didn’t tell us farmers and ranchers work hard.  It didn’t even come out and say “buy a Dodge pickup.”  The ad instead tugged at our heartstrings and it worked.

That’s instructive for us.  Facts are on ethanol’s side but facts alone do little to capture the hearts of people we need to reach.  People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care.  

People like Tim Van Der Wal, Mark Thomas, Scott McPheeters care, and care so much about the future success of ethanol that they took the time to participate in ACE’s fly-in with several other grassroots leaders.

And despite all the bombast coming from the oil industry’s attack campaigns and lobbyists in Washington, what we took away from our fly-in is that Congress isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about repealing the RFS or stopping E15 as Big Oil would like the public to believe.  Congress may not view the RFS as perfect but on balance they recognize it is working.  We can’t and shouldn’t let down our guard based on this, but we should know that when real people get in front of Congress and show how much they care about our industry, it makes a positive difference.

Big Oil is spending millions of dollars to repeal the RFS and stop E15 this year.  Groups like ACE are spending what we have to counteract these attacks and proactively promote our industry.  But at ACE, we’re also focused on punching “above our weight” by intelligently using other valuable resources such as our grassroots members.  Real people who are authentic, who are part of a classic American success story, a story about hard work, innovation, solving problems and building and growing a better future right here at home.

Thanks to Tim, Mark, Scott, and many others, I’m confident and optimistic about our prospects.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol