A New Chapter for Ethanol Demand and Policy

The ethanol industry laid a strong foundation during the 2020 presidential campaign, ensuring that no path to the White House would be paved without answering to voters in rural America and including farmers in the fight against climate change.
By Emily Skor | February 09, 2021

In keeping with tradition, the biofuel sector kicked off 2021 with its first major annual gathering, hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association in January. While the summit moved to a virtual setting, enthusiasm remained as strong as ever, and I was honored to deliver the keynote address to an audience energized by the opportunities ahead to open a new chapter for biofuels, in a new year, with a new administration.

Fortunately, our industry laid a strong foundation during the campaign, ensuring that no path to the White House would be paved without answering to our voters in rural America.

Those efforts did not go unrewarded. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned and won on a promise to promote biofuels, recognizing them as the engine of the rural economy and a vital tool in the fight against climate change.

Now, we’re working to ensure Biden keeps those promises by acting swiftly and boldly to meet the current challenges facing rural communities. If he is successful, it will send an unmistakable signal that we have a sincere partner in the White House.

That starts at the U.S. EPA, where Biden’s nominee to serve as administrator, Michael Regan, will soon be making his first substantial decisions on the future of biofuels. While Regan has a limited record on biofuels, he doesn’t come to the table with deep anti-ethanol ties. That means we have an opportunity to set the table, on our terms, by educating Regan on the modern American ethanol industry and the impactful role we have in carbon reduction.

Under his leadership, EPA must move swiftly to restore integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard. Sixty-five small refinery exemptions are still under review at EPA, and we won’t let up until the exemption pipeline is shut down, just as the 10th Circuit Court intended. Moreover, EPA must restore 500 million gallons of demand, as ordered by the courts all the way back in 2017, and set strong Renewable Volume Obligations for 2021.

Of course, the RFS is only one leg of the stool when it comes to promoting new demand. To create a true step change in domestic demand, we must make higher blends the national commercial success we know they can be. That is why we are proudly working with retail partners, lawmakers and the USDA to bring E15 to consumers in untapped markets expeditiously. Thanks to those efforts, E15 is now available at nearly 2,300 locations. Magellan just made pre-blended E15 a “house recipe” at its terminals, which means lower costs and higher returns for our retail partners.

To accelerate that progress, we’re pushing EPA to address the onerous E15 label and limits on the use of existing infrastructure for higher blends. Just this January, EPA released a long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking on these issues. Importantly, EPA’s proposal draws on market data that Prime the Pump has made available to regulators demonstrating the commercial appeal of this high-value product.

We’re also pursuing a robust legislative and regulatory agenda in states like Minnesota, where policymakers are considering a climate roadmap that would make E15 the new normal, and Missouri, where lawmakers are considering tax incentives to help us eliminate remaining barriers to E15 growth.

As part of these conversations, from Mexico City to Olympia, Washington, we never miss a chance to showcase biofuels as the premier climate and human health solution—one that is available today, compatible with our existing auto fleet, and affordable for communities around the world.

That’s the message that resonated last year in Canada, where Ontario amended its clean fuel regulations to boost the volume of renewable content in gasoline from 10% to 15% by 2030.

If other leaders hope to drive similar progress, the details matter. An effective climate strategy must recognize the critical role biofuels play in decarbonizing our transportation sector and bring our farmers into the fold in addressing the climate crisis. It must build on the success of the RFS, increase the use of high-octane, low-carbon biofuels, and expand market access for higher blends. And it must reflect the best available science.

In fact, the latest landmark study, published by Environmental Health and Engineering, shows ethanol’s carbon intensity score is 46% lower than gasoline. The sooner we can get these fuels to the pump, the sooner motorists—including those living in densely populated urban communities—can enjoy cleaner air and a more affordable commute.

Fortunately, we have some great champions by our side, and I know my colleagues across the industry share my excitement as we navigate the challenges of a new year. Together, we will ensure that ethanol is not only the fuel of a rural economic renaissance, but the driving force behind a brighter, healthier future for decades to come.

Author: Emily Skor
CEO, Growth Energy
202.545.4000
eskor@growthenergy.org