All For One

FROM THE JUNE ISSUE: The American Coalition for Ethanol’s annual Washington, D.C., fly-in attracts participants from all sectors affected by ethanol to spend an afternoon lobbying for the industry.
By Lisa Gibson | May 17, 2019

During a meeting with three attendees of the American Coalition for Ethanol’s 2019 Washington, D.C., fly-in, Jaqueline Schmitz, senior policy advisor for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said New Jersey voters are against ethanol. They don’t like the emissions and they don’t want to use it in their boat engines, she said.
The three attendees, together constituting team No. 21 of about 25 fly-in teams in Capitol Hill meetings that afternoon, referred her to a greenhouse gas emissions chart they carried along, showing that emissions from ethanol continue to decline, currently hovering at about 40 percent below that of gasoline. And boat engines? The crappie masters tournament uses E10 every year. 

The annual ACE Fly-In & Government Affairs Summit took place April 2 and 3, and education became a prominent theme, attendees said. Many legislators, particularly from states with little agriculture, were unaware of the details of the Renewable Fuel Standard and had limited knowledge of ethanol. Many thought the RFS will only be around a few more years, didn’t understand renewable identification numbers or were under the impression that E15 has higher emissions than E10.

Conversely, other legislators and their staffs were well-versed on the issues fly-in attendees wanted to discuss and already had letters or petitions in progress to help.

This year, the focuses of legislative meetings during the ACE fly-in centered around educating Congress on ethanol, its benefits and the many industries it affects; getting the E15 Reid vapor pressure waiver to the finish line; and communicating the damage caused by unnecessary small refinery exemptions (SREs).
“Based on the feedback we received from the more than 70 people taking part in the fly-in, we were successful in illuminating the issues we wanted to illuminate,” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE. “I was impressed by the passion and enthusiasm that our participants brought to D.C. and it is always personally rewarding for me to see people from all walks of life come together and push for our priorities in D.C.”

Inside the Meetings
Scott McPheeters, board member of Kaapa Ethanol, with two locations in Nebraska, and a corn farmer, said he attends the ACE fly-in every year. “The first time I went, I saw the value of what was happening and how well-organized it was, and I felt really good about accomplishing something,” he said. “We’re frustrated. We wonder what we can do, and it’s a great feeling to go and actually talk to people.”

The meetings with legislators and staffers who have no opinion on ethanol can be the most interesting and constructive, he said. “Those are the ones that are really nice because you can go in and present the facts. They’ve been believing what they’ve heard and what they’ve heard is spun by the oil industry.”

McPheeters grows only food-grade corn, sold to Frito Lay. But the ethanol industry represents a benefit for all corn farmers, he said. “It’s all a big picture. You don’t have to sell corn to an ethanol plant to benefit from the market generated by the ethanol plant.” 

Finding a common interest in meetings with legislators and staffs sometimes is as simple as breathing. “We want to breathe clean air,” McPheeters said. “As a consumer, as a person who lives and breathes on the planet, there’s a big benefit.”

Many attendees agreed that leaning on the climate change impacts of ethanol was a successful tactic in their meetings. It was nice to go on offense instead of playing defense, some said.

Dave Sovereign, chairman of the board for Golden Grain Energy in Mason City, Iowa, vice president of the ACE board and president of fuel retailer Cresco Fuels in Cresco, Iowa, said it’s important to tailor the message to the legislator or staffer in the meeting. He was surprised to find out that many don’t even own cars, let alone worry about what fuel they’re using. “So it’s important that we go out and tell our story to keep them up to speed on how this affects such a wide range of the population and not just the constituents that they see right in front of them.”

Meetings generally go quickly, as many offices are incredibly busy, with staffers jumping in and out of appointments all day. But Jennings said that doesn’t mean fly-ins lose their effectiveness. “As a former Senate staffer myself, I can say with great confidence our fly-in makes a difference. Yes, it is true that certain times of the year the congressional offices are swamped with visits from groups like ours. But it is also true that these fly-in events allow us to put a human face on our priority issues and make connections with staff and members of Congress that pay dividends in the future.”

Many attendees get phone calls and emails from legislative staff long after the event, asking about ethanol-related topics, Jennings added. “As the old but true saying goes in D.C., if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, so ACE will continue to provide an opportunity for grassroots ethanol supporters to have a seat at the table in D.C.”

McPheeters agreed. “One of the best things we can do is fly-ins like this. We’re real people they can look in the eye.”

On the Issues
Perhaps the most critical issue this year was the damage SREs have done to the ethanol industry. In 2016 and 2017, 54 waivers were granted, totaling more than 2.6 billion gallons. A lack of reallocation is oversupplying a tender ethanol market.

“We’re always working on something [at fly-ins], but this is really critical,” McPheeters said.
“The real and acute economic pain in rural America is caused, in part, by EPA’s abuse of the SRE provision of the RFS and ongoing trade disputes,” Jennings said. “It was evident on the faces of (and in the words of) many of the farmers in attendance that their patience is running incredibly thin and they are concerned about being able to hang on given the onslaught of demand destruction.”

McPheeters said his best meeting with a legislator happened at this year’s fly-in with Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. Scott asked how he can help with the SRE damage. He understood the problem, his staff was knowledgeable and he listened to suggestions for solutions, such as a letter to EPA or President Donald Trump outlining the problem and asking for a fix. “That’s the best meeting I’ve ever had,” McPheeters said.

Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the U.S. EPA, spoke to participants the morning of April 2, taking questions on the SREs. The address was closed to the press.

Those gallons need to be reallocated, Jennings said to attendees following Wehrum’s address. “And I’m telling you something you already know because you told Bill Wehrum that.” SREs likely will need to be addressed through a lawsuit, he added. ACE is involved in a lawsuit in the 10th Circuit to challenge three specific SREs granted to HollyFrontier Corp. and CVR Energy. It has also petitioned EPA to reallocate SREs. “That’s something that we could take up here in D.C., in the D.C. circuit,” Jennings said.

“We’re not asking too much of EPA,” he said. “We are not asking too much of elected leaders to make sure the rule of law is followed with respect to the RFS.”

This year’s fly-in included several new faces, on the Hill for the first time. Sovereign said attendance, at 73, was the second-highest in the event’s history. And it’s crucial to get the real faces of the industry into legislators’ offices, he said.

“So many times, they read about RINs or ethanol, but they don’t have a human side of it they can relate to. I think that we have that opportunity to put our faces in front of people and, hopefully, by telling our story, they can relate to that the next time they read about it or make a decision on a piece of legislation.”

Author: Lisa Gibson
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine
[email protected]