Modifying the Message

FROM THE MAY ISSUE: With a Democratic-majority House of Representatives, the ethanol lobby emphasizes carbon reduction.
By Lisa Gibson | April 16, 2019

The ethanol industry has done a great job making friends throughout the political spectrum, says John Fuher, vice president of government affairs for Growth Energy. “You have to have support from people across the divide,” he says, from the most liberal to the most conservative. “I think that’s something this industry has done very well. We have some strong Republicans and we have some strong Democrats among our strongest supporters.”

It makes for an easy transition to adjusting the message of the ethanol lobby to appeal to a Democratic-majority House of Representatives. “There’s almost 90 new members in the House of Representatives and we have people on both sides who are strong supporters of ours and that’s because we work with them at a grassroots level; we have a good presence in Washington,” Fuher says. “So this is about finding what’s relevant for people making policies for this country and making sure that we’re part of the conversation.”

Ethanol provides a host of public policy benefits such as economic development, reducing dependence on foreign oil and carbon reduction, says Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol. “It’s always important to give thoughtful consideration to the audience you’re trying to convince to support you,” he says.

“The key for ACE is to be cognizant of the fact that House Democratic leadership is going to want to do a lot in the way of reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) and addressing climate change,” Jennings says. “Ethanol is part of the solution. … It’s really incumbent upon the industry to go on offense when it comes to positioning ethanol as something that can be part of the solution to reduce greenhouse gases.”
Kathy Bergren, the National Corn Growers Association’s public policy director in renewable fuels, agrees. “For many House Democrats focused on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, NCGA is reminding them that ethanol reduces emissions and, in fact, results in 43 percent less GHG emissions than gasoline,” she says. “Particularly for new members of Congress, we want them to understand how ethanol is part of the solution, as well as how increased farmer productivity and changes in farming practices continue to make ethanol an even better option to reduce GHG emissions and improve air quality.”

Climate Priority
“Overall, broadly, when you look at energy, the focus of Democrats tends to be more on a renewable energy side, more on a carbon reduction side,” Fuher says. Republicans, meanwhile, focus more on reducing barriers to any type of energy, specific to conventional energy sources, he says.
In general, but certainly with exceptions, Democrats view climate change as a larger issue than Republicans do, Fuher says. Republicans also don’t see the government playing a large part in carbon reduction, while Democrats do. “I think there’s just a difference in looking at carbon and what role the government plays in taking on a reduction in carbon,” Fuher says. 

The priority difference is illuminated in the number of climate change hearings held in the House since its new members took their seats. “So I think when you have that type of change and you have that type of different outlook, you’re going to have to have a different message or different approach to get through, frankly, the morass,” Fuher says. “You’re going to have a lot of people trying to compete for the same voice.” Hearings provide opportunities for the industry to communicate ethanol’s carbon-reduction benefits from both conventional corn and second-generation feedstocks, he says. “It allows us to go in and present a different side.

Republicans generally didn’t put reduction of carbon emissions from fuel at the top of their lists of priorities, Fuher adds. A Democratic House likely will put more emphasis on the Renewable Fuel Standard and small-refinery waivers, he says. “Now that you have a House that’s concerned about this in a different way, they’re going to make this part of their agenda, so we need to be responsive to that and we need to talk about that as well,” Fuher adds.

Who’s On Board? 
Staff from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office have reached out to ACE to discuss what role ethanol can play in GHG reduction, Jennings says. “Nancy Pelosi remembers, frankly, that the 2007 energy bill included [a Renewable Fuel Standard] that was very important for rural Democrats,” he says. “She has a long memory and she recognizes that it was a very beneficial step for rural Democrats to support and she wants to see if we can build upon that success, according to what her staff has indicated.”

“The RFS was expanded under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership when Democrats were last in control of Congress, so we look forward to her continued support for ethanol while also working to build relationships with the many new members of Congress,” Bergren says.

Jennings says other important longtime supporters include Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who has been a loud champion for the RFS. Fuher says Growth Energy has established connections with new Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer of Iowa. New Republican representatives who have worked with Growth Energy in support of ethanol include Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota.
And Democratic presidential candidates who traditionally have not lined up behind ethanol are expressing support on their campaign trails in Iowa. They include Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

“Democratic presidential candidates see the need to have a focused rural strategy because winning the presidency without rural voters is very difficult,” Fuher says, adding President Donald Trump “catapulted to victory” largely because of his performance in rural America. “There are a lot of Democrats who see that that can’t happen again if they want to win the presidency.”
Jennings says, “It gives us an opportunity to educate the candidates on our priorities and I think that’s a very effective tool for us.”

Carrying Water
“Ethanol has always been a bipartisan issue,” Jennings says. “It’s always relied upon both Democrats and Republicans to carry our water in Congress, and we want to continue that.

“We have strong champions that are Democrats, like Collin Peterson for example, and strong champions that are Republicans, like Chuck Grassley for example,” Jennings adds. “We absolutely have to have the political astuteness to recognize that when one party takes over control of one of the Houses, it’s important to position ourselves to be advantageous to what that party is trying to accomplish. …
“Ethanol reduces GHGs,” he adds. “That’s what we’re going to focus on. That happens to be one of the priorities of the Democrats in Congress right now.”

Author: Lisa Gibson
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine