Cooper brings passion for ag, biofuels to RFA leadership role

By Matt Thompson | November 14, 2018

Geoff Cooper, who transitioned into the role of president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association last month, said that transition has been a smooth one. “I know the organization very well, know the structure, know the members, and so I’ve had that benefit,” said Cooper, who has been with the RFA for 10 years. During that time he held many roles, including his most recent as executive vice president.

Cooper said he feels one of his strengths is the new perspective he brings to the president and CEO role. “I think I have the benefit of bringing in some new ideas and some maybe slightly different approaches to how we do certain things, and I’m really looking forward at having the opportunity to implement some of those,” he said. Cooper took over for previous CEO and president Bob Dinneen in October. Dinneen assumed an advisory role within the organization and is someone Cooper describes as “a legend in the industry and [is] known far and wide.”

One of Cooper’s main goals, he said, will be help strengthen support for ethanol. “I just think there is still so much misinformation and so many myths out there about our products and about what we do in this industry that it’s imperative that we kind of strengthen our efforts, and really focus on correcting that information and educating policy makers and decision makers and the public about who we are and what we do,” he said.

According to Cooper, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry are barriers, such as tariffs, that limit demand for ethanol and biofuels. “One of my top priorities, and a central focus for me in this position, is going to be finding ways to better enable our industry to compete on a level playing field with petroleum. … Our industry just wants a fair chance to compete, and we’re confident that given that opportunity, consumers are always going to choose a fuel that is cheaper and cleaner and domestically produced.”

In addition to educational initiatives, the RFA will ramp up its efforts with gasoline retailers, considering President Donald Trump’s directive that the EPA modify its rules to allow year-round E15 sales, Cooper said. With a final rule on the RVP waiver expected to be in place by May 2019, retailers won’t have much time to install blender pumps before the summer driving season begins. “We want to be reaching out to the retail sector to make sure they know that when the summer of 2019 comes around, that RVP barrier should be out of the way. And I think that will really help free up some investment that has been standing on the sidelines and waiting for more certainty and more clarity,” he said.

The biofuels industry is not a new one for Cooper. He began his career in the Army, where he worked in petroleum logistics. During his time in the military, Cooper was deployed to the Middle East. “That was an experience that kind of helped shape my feelings about the importance of energy security and about the importance of a strong domestic energy industry,” he said.

After his time in the Army, Cooper worked for the National Corn Growers Association, where he said he gained further appreciation for ethanol. “At that time that we were just beginning to see the beginning of the boom in ethanol production and it … was just very exciting to watch this industry kind of being built from the ground up by farmers who were investing in this value-added market opportunity for their corn. And so that’s kind of where I really got bit by the ethanol bug.”

Despite the challenges, Cooper looks forward to his continued role with the RFA and addressing some of the industry’s issues. “My dad always told me you’ve got to find something that you love to do. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, you’re not going to have a good life. So I’ve been fortunate to find something that lines up very well with my personal values and kind of my personal views on the world. And so, I just feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing,” he said.