Keep your word

By Tom Bryan and Tim Portz | February 18, 2014

In a month, none of the 1,000 ethanol industry professionals gathered in Orlando for the 2014 National Ethanol Conference will remember the event’s official motto, “Falling Walls, Rising Tides.” Instead, they will recall the unofficial and impassioned directive that Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen laced again and again into his annual state of the industry address that opened the proceedings, Keep Your Word. Throughout his remarks Dinneen admonished the EPA to uphold the intent of the RFS and not interfere with its planned and intended progression. Keep your word, indeed. 

With a conference that is unfolding just weeks after the U.S. EPA ended a 60-day public comment period on their proposed changes to the 2014 volume requirements mandated by the renewable fuels standard (RFS), Dinneen surprised no one in the audience by drawing attention to this critical waypoint in the industry’s path forward.

“The RFS was and is a remarkable piece of legislation,” Dinneen said, continuing by stating that if the EPA’s proposal stands, the country’s “inexorable march away from fossil fuels will be reversed.”

Dinneen then moved crisply through the ethanol industry’s many benefits including its well documented ability to revitalize rural economies, help reduce the need to import foreign oil and deliver a liquid fuel with significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Dinneen took extra care in drawing the audience’s attention to ethanol’s continually falling carbon intensity, noting that current studies show ethanol delivers a 32 percent savings in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline even when including indirect land use change penalties. “From an environmental perspective, ethanol is a stone cold winner,” Dinneen said adding that “those benefits will only grow as production technologies continue to improve.”

Dinneen heralded the arrival of cellulosic ethanol, pointing to the nearly 80 MMgy to 100 MMgy of production capacity that is expected to come online by year’s end, with plants now operational, in startup and nearing completion in Iowa, Kansas, Florida and elsewhere. “EPA failure to implement the RFS is the only roadblock they face now,” he said, alluding to the EPA’s pending RFS renewable volume obligations decision, expected to come this spring or summer.

Dinneen connected the feverish efforts of the oil industry to alter or repeal to the RFS to this progress by pointing out that once the production of advanced biofuels is perfected and the 22 billion gallons the RFS calls for is delivered the marketplace the oil industry “will have lost nearly a quarter of their marketplace barrel”.

Dinneen then moved to the ethanol industry’s beneficial impact on corn production. “Corn prices are lower than they were when the RFS was passed,” he said, adding that year-on-year food inflation is dramatically down. Dinneen also cited the World Bank’s finding that rising crude oil prices—not ethanol—are the primary cause food price increases globally. 

Dinneen reserved the last segment of his remarks for an update on the industry’s efforts to introduce higher blends of ethanol into the fuel marketplace. As the American ethanol industry ostensibly hangs its next hat on E15, Dinneen pointed out that the higher ethanol blend is now being sold at more than 60 retail stations in 22 states, with a dozen more states working through the regulatory barriers of getting it introduced. “E15 is making up 20 percent of sales at these stations,” Dinneen said, adding that more than 60 million miles have been driven on the fuel without a single report of misfueling. “It’s time to move on and allow consumers to choose E15 if it’s right for their car and their pocketbook.”  Making this fuel available for consumers to choose is, in Dinneen’s eyes, a job the ethanol industry needs to aggressively take up, saying, “It is up to us to prime the infrastructure pump. We need to do this ourselves, brick by brick, station by station.”

Knowing the EPA’s decision is weighing on the minds of the his audience, Dinneen finished his remarks by returning the pending EPA proposal to reduce the renewable volume obligation, reminding the crowd that it is, after all, “just a proposal.” A proposal that thousands of men and women across the industry, many of them sitting in the audience, responded and reacted to during the EPA’s 60-day comment period. Dinneen thanked the audience for the strong and authentic response they generated and concluded by saying, “Now the EPA must listen. And lead.”