OPINION: RFS anniversary is something for retailers to celebrate

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development at the Renewable Fuels Association | August 06, 2020

On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, creating the Renewable Fuel Standard. This important bipartisan policy (expanded in 2007) has led to more energy security, a stronger rural economy and cleaner air.  More than 200 ethanol plants now dot the countryside, from California to New York, with an operating capacity of more than 17 billion gallons a year. In 2005, the industry had fewer than half that number of ethanol biorefineries and had not yet reached 4 billion gallons of production.

Getting ethanol enriched fuel into drivers’ tanks has required a lot of work and we’ve been working with retailers every step of the way. RFA helps provide the tools and other resources necessary to place the right infrastructure, deal with regulatory issues, and help consumers understand the value of this new fuel blend. The success of the RFS as a policy, and the growth of our industry, would not have been possible without our retailers.

Over the years, we’ve worked in multiple capacities on behalf of retailers – One area for which we are especially proud is the extensive storage tank database tool we have built internally which contains all underground and aboveground storage tank information organized by State. This has enabled us to determine several things when assisting sites seeking guidance on the compatibility of existing equipment for higher blends of ethanol. In many cases we can provide the age, manufacturer, and current regulatory status of their equipment. This has allowed us to be able to utilize the tool to determine geographical areas of concern with regards to the age of the local fuel equipment infrastructure. This has provided a valid access point for us to approach states about potential storage tank replacement programs, thus paving the way for retailers to consider higher blends.

Lately, RFA has been assisting retailers and other stakeholders take advantage of the federal government’s newest program to expand ethanol, the USDA’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, a $100 million retailer grant program designed to expand the availability and sale of higher blends of ethanol like E15 and E85/Flex Fuel, as well as other renewable fuel blends. This program provides cost-share grants for up to 50 percent of total eligible project costs, but not to exceed $5 million per applicant, for costs related to the upgrading of fuel dispensers, associated ancillary equipment, and other infrastructure necessary for a location to ensure the environmentally safe availability of fuel containing ethanol blends greater than 10 percent. As the August 13, deadline approaches, it’s critical that those retailers taking part in this complete their applications as soon as possible.

Aside from these technical programs, RFA has also launched several exciting programs that have helped with consumer awareness and retailer adoption. In 2009, RFA partnered with the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, S.D., as part of an overall effort to educate motorcyclists on the power and value of ethanol. We’ve donated a permanent fuel station on the Buffalo Chip Campground, where bikes can now fuel 24 hours a day, and as an added bonus during the world-famous summer rally (which begins this weekend), bikers can pull up over the course of several days to participate in a free fuel promotion and fill up on us.

Ethanol is not just partial to land-based transportation, were all about the water too. We have taken our message to the boating world in a major way. RFA has partnered with the Crappie Masters Tournament Trail as a co-title sponsor for a number of years. In 2019, for the fifth consecutive year, the winning team of the Crappie Masters National Championship powered their boat with clean, renewable ethanol. RFA’s participation helps to educate boaters, conservation enthusiasts and the public about the successful use of ethanol in marine engines.  For nearly 30 years, 10 percent ethanol has been used in all types of marine engines and the fuel blend is approved for use by all major marine engine manufacturers.

Next year, the Renewable Fuels Association will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and as the oldest ethanol organization in the country, we’re in this effort for the long haul. Our work continues, driving expanded demand for American-made renewable fuels and bioproducts worldwide, with a clear vision to help the world breathe easier with the power of renewable fuels.  We won’t reach that vision without our retailers.