Counterproductive Competitiveness

By Susanne Retka Schill | March 11, 2011

Growth Energy and RFA took swipes at each other in their respective winter meetings with subtle and not-so-subtle digs. We don’t usually report them, since there often is more than enough important information needing to be covered. In this year, we worry that the infighting will detract from the critical battles to be fought on Capitol Hill to prevent the industry from being harmed by intentional and unintentional legislative changes. We won’t add fuel to the fire by reporting who said what, but well-placed phone calls from ethanol producers may remind our organizations to tone down the competition.

In this issue, another voice is reaching out to the industry. Often an ethanol critic, the Union of Concerned Scientists contacted us about writing a piece laying out their ideas for policies benefitting cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels development. Jeremy Martin presents those ideas in his policy contribution and gives an outsider’s view on how the ethanol industry’s response is sometimes counterproductive.

Reading his contribution, I was reminded of a lesson from the past when I managed a nonprofit organization of organic farmers. Several of those farmers made a concerted effort to have a dialogue with environmental groups who were often critics of agriculture and opposed to farm programs. The current National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition grew out of those discussions, which has put its fingerprint on such programs as the Environmental Quality Improvement Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. What I remember best, though, are the stories about the early conversations where the farmers took the time to explain the dynamics and economics of farming and the sincerity of most farmers in truly caring for the land. It took some time, but the environmentalists became allies in advocating for program reforms. The farmers I knew wanted to find ways to benefit organic farmers, many of whom didn’t benefit from farm programs at all. They also advocated for policies that would work for the larger farming community. A similar approach would benefit the ethanol industry and perhaps is occurring behind the scenes.

Author: Susanne Retka Schill
[email protected]