Ethanol’s health benefits take center stage at leadership forum

By Matt Thompson | February 07, 2020

The National Clean Fuels Technology and Health Effects Leadership Forum was held in Washington, D.C. this week, and brought to the forefront the health and environmental benefits ethanol offers.

“We’re here to talk about clean fuels, climate and health,” said Reid Detchon, senior advisor for climate solutions of the United Nations Foundation. Ethanol, he said, can displace toxic aromatics in gasoline to the benefit of public health. “Substituting a larger fraction of ethanol for aromatics would have important benefits for public health and significant near-term climate benefits for transportation, which will otherwise take decades to transform,” Detchon said. “That’s the narrative we will unspool today.”

Presenters included Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association; Steve VanderGriend, technical director of the Urban Air Initiative; and Jim Seurer, CEO of Glacial Lakes Energy, among others. The presentations were designed to give attendees technical background on emissions, the carbon intensity of corn ethanol, information about regulatory issues, as well as the health effects of aromatics in gasoline.

The forum concluded with a roundtable discussion with many of the day’s presenters and focused on what can be done to include more ethanol in the U.S. gasoline pool and what steps should be taken to gain public support.

“I think that we really need to focus on embracing a lot of these health groups and trying to talk to them and educate them about why it makes sense to them,” said Anne Steckel, biofuels advisor for the National Farmers Union. “It’s great if we’re talking to ourselves in agriculture and we all agree to it, but we have to talk to the rest of the country, too, so I think digging a little bit deeper on health aspects will really get us where we need to go.”

Carol Werner, director emeritus and senior policy fellow of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, agreed. “It’s been disappointing that it hasn’t been easier to direct people in the professional public health organizations, but I think that there hasn’t been enough of a concerted effort and all this really takes a lot of time,” she said.

The group also agreed that EPA should be held accountable for regulating harmful air toxics. “EPA has largely failed to regulate any of these aromatics, despite a provision in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990,” Detchon said.

David Hallberg, principal at Dakota AG Energy the best course of action may involve litigation. “It doesn’t look like EPA’s ever going to budge, so we’ve got to budge them,” said David Hallberg, principal at Dakota AG Energy. “That’s where the court of public opinion helps complement whatever court we go into. We’ve got the data. We’ve got to get the attorneys; we’ve got to get the industry aligned behind.”