Industry representatives defend corn ethanol at state hearing

By Erin Voegele | May 09, 2014

Pending legislation in New Hampshire aims to limit corn ethanol in gasoline to 10 percent. The bill passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives on March 25 and was introduced in the state Senate on March 27. On April 29, the measure, HB 1220, was the focus of hearing held by the Senate Committee on Transportation.

During the hearing, Rep. David Campbell, the bill’s sponsor, painted a negative picture of ethanol. He spoke about often debunked food versus fuel debate, the impact of ethanol blends on small engines, the blend wall, land use, and several other ethanol-related myths. “This bill is a preemptive strike against the madness and inefficiencies of increasing ethanol content in gasoline,” he said.

The bill would become effective when two other New England states enact similar legislation. According to Campbell, Maine has already done so.

Mathew Carr of the Biotechnology Industry Organization offered testimony opposing the bill. “BIO opposes H.B. 1220 because of its impact on research, development and commercialization of advanced and cellulosic biofuels and other innovative products of industrial biotechnology, both here in New Hampshire and throughout the country,” he said. 

Carr called the bill unnecessary and said that it needlessly restricts consumer choice. “It risks exposing New Hampshire residents to higher gas prices and puts New Hampshire’s future job growth in biotechnology at risk,” he continued.

He stressed that government actions to restrict biofuels, such as the pending legislation in New Hampshire, negatively impact the ability of advanced biofuel companies to attract private capital needed to build facilities.

He also pointed out ethanol is ethanol, whether it is made from corn or advanced feedstocks. The bill would limit place a limit only on corn ethanol, not advanced ethanol. Carr stressed that fuel distributors are not in a position to differentiate between different sources of ethanol. “That is not really a way to order corn-ethanol free gasoline,” he said.

Carr also noted that way the renewable fuel standard (RFS) is framed, corn ethanol production has already likely reached its peak. Future biofuel increases are expected to come from advanced and cellulosic fuels.

In addition, Carr spoke of consumer and retailer choice. “What ethanol producers would like to do is provide their product to consumers that want it,” he said. “There is no such thing as a mandate for 10 percent ethanol fuel, nor would there be for 15 percent fuel. The mandate requires an overall average blending rate, and obligated parties are free to sort of choose what form of blending they’d like to do…We don’t think that boat owners or other recreational users should be forced to use ethanol gasoline, just as we don’t believe retailers should be prohibited from making available higher blends.”

Joanne Donoghue of Mascoma Corp. also spoke at the hearing. She noted that her company started as a spinoff of Dartmouth College, which is based in New Hampshire. The company now employs more than 50 people within the state.

During her testimony, Donoghue spoke about Mascoma’s corn-ethanol and cellulosic-ethanol operations. “I think this bill is really going to hurt our company. It’s going to not allow us to expand our technology. It is going to basically not be in support of the ethanol industry, we won’t be able to have the infrastructure or investment in our company that we’d like to have. This isn’t just going to hurt corn ethanol, this is going to hurt our company,” she said.

Donoghue also spoke about the importance of consumer choice and stressed that the use of E15 is clearly prohibited from use in small engines by federal law. Retail pumps are clearly labeled to communicate that restriction to consumers, she said.

Chris Caldwell of Dupont also offered testimony. He spoke of his company’s commercialization efforts for both cellulosic ethanol and biobased butnaol. In addition, he addressed the persistent myths perpetuated against ethanol. “The oil industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars vilifying the corn-based ethanol industry. They’ve spent a ton of time bashing and dragging this food versus fuel debate across the board,” he said.

Also representing biofuels at the hearing was Eric Ebenstein of Poet LLC. Ethanol is cleaner, greener, produced in the U.S., and helps keep jobs and money in the U.S., he said. Poet is aggressively active in the cellulosic market, he said, noting that the bill would dis-incentivize his company from making cellulosic investments in the state and would dis-incentivize the company from doing business with New Hampshire-based companies, such Mascoma.

He also addressed the impact of ethanol on engines. “Ethanol doesn’t hurt engines if used properly and appropriately. We’ve been using E10 for a long time, there isn’t a gigantic groundswell of problems,” he said, stressing that E15 isn’t approved for use in small engines.