RFA, Growth Energy, ACE on stage together at FEW

By Holly Jessen | June 11, 2013

The leaders of the three ethanol industry associations, Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association and the American Coalition for Ethanol, all came together on stage during the June 11 general session of the 29th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in St. Louis, Mo.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of RFA, Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, and Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE, had a conversation with moderator Tom Bryan, president of BBI International, about the attacks on the renewable fuel standard (RFS), E15 and fighting back in the war against biofuels. One theme that emerged was the importance of engaging in the battle. Jennings pointed out that all three of the speakers on stage were registered lobbyists for the ethanol industry. Still, that’s not the only criteria for having a big impact. “The most valuable players aren’t on this stage, they are in this audience,” he said, adding that taking the time to visit Washington, D.C., and speak with lawmakers or their staffers is a very compelling way to get the message out.

Buis also encouraged members of the ethanol industry to engage with members of Congress. It’s not necessary to wait for an attack on ethanol to do that, he added, encouraging the industry to be proactive. “If we sit on the sidelines,” he said, “we know the outcome. We have to be engaged.”

The group also talked about why Big Oil is so focused on repealing the RFS. The oil industry has erected every regulatory, legal and public relations roadblock it could think of, Buis said, urging the ethanol industry to join the Fuels America Coalition as a way of supporting the fight to preserve the RFS. “You need to put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

It’s a battle for the barrel, Dinneen said. The petroleum industry sees what the ethanol industry sees—the advanced biofuels industry is on the cusp of commercial production. Big Oil has already lost 10 percent of its market share and doesn’t want that to ramp up to one-third of its market share, which is what will happen if the advanced biofuels industry is successful. “Really what they are fighting is cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels,” Dinneen said, adding that the oil industry doesn’t want the advanced biofuels industry to gain the foothold that the grain ethanol industry did.

The facts are on the side of the ethanol industry, Jennings said. What the oil companies forget is that the RFS was not enacted to make them more comfortable—it was enacted to disrupt the status quo.

The reality is that if consumers are going to get relief from fuel prices the fuel supply will have to be diversified, Dinneen said. Even with increased domestic production of oil the price per barrel is still high. “The only relief that consumers will ever have is domestic ethanol production,” he said.

The group also talked about the 10 percent blend wall as a piece of fiction manufactured by the oil industry. “The fact of the matter is, we can scale the blend wall,” Dinneen said, pointing to E15, E85 and other higher blends. Although Big Oil wants to blame the blend wall on the RFS it’s actually erected by the petroleum industry itself.

Jennings said he thought the industry needs to go on the offense, rather than the defense. He mentioned a congressional staff briefing held recently, during which a South Dakota retailer talked about the fact that E15 is his second-best selling fuel among straight gas, E10, E30 and E85. That retailer is making money selling E15 while also offering his customers a lower costing fuel. “That’s the story we need to be telling,” he said.

Bryan then asked the three speakers to give their prediction on where the industry would be, seven years from now. Buis predicted that, though the fight will be difficult, the industry will ultimately win. The future of the biofuels industry is exceedingly bright, he said, because the U.S. cannot drill or frack its way out of its dependence on foreign oil. “[Ethanol] is the only competition of any quantity to fossil fuel,” he said.

Jennings talked about three words, innovation, diversification and octane, as three factors that will help the industry win the fight.

Dinneen predicted that in seven years the industry will still be here, producing a lot of gallons of both grain-based ethanol and advanced biofuels. “I’m an ethanol lobbyist and a Red Sox fan. I think that makes me as big an optimist as I can be,” he said to laughter from the audience. “We will win this fight, we will not give up.”