By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
Last week, on behalf of Minnesota biofuel producers, I spent a few days in Washington, D.C., meeting with members of Congress. My goal was to “tell the renewable biofuel story” for the purpose of creating or bolstering support for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the ethanol produced in Minnesota. But I also made it my goal to listen to what policymakers, legislative aids and others had to say about those issues that matter to biofuel producers. My take away from many hours of meetings is a mix of support and new challenges.
Many policymakers understand the economic, energy independence, consumer and environmental benefits associated with renewable biofuel. And that’s why they support the RFS, the United States Department of Agriculture initiated the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership program and some discussions are underway to explore how to address the Reid Vapor Pressure issue.
The message we brought to Washington was built upon the facts reflected in the number of producers in Minnesota, the growing number of fuel retailers who offer E15 and higher blends of ethanol, businesses associated with the biofuel industry and the metrics from a new ABF Study on the contribution of the ethanol industry in Minnesota (this study will be released soon).
Among supporters of the RFS and biofuels generally, our message was well received. We “refreshed” the numbers and gave a human face to otherwise two-dimensional reports. We must continue to bolster those who support the RFS and all it represents for today and the future of biofuels.
But we can’t ignore the challenges that remain. While I was in Washington, some policymakers ramped up their attacks on the RFS. Some have suggested the RFS be eviscerated because it simply is not needed or is a subsidy or that we will never get to producing cellulosic biofuels or because carbon emissions don’t matter. The list goes on.
One of the more bizarre statements I heard from a group of independent petroleum producers speaks volumes about the delusional state in which some function in our nation's capital. The science is very clear on the fact that petroleum is a finite carbon source, which emits carbon and other pollutants. It is not renewable on a human timeline as are biofuels. In the face of these facts and common sense, these petroleum representatives made a rather startling remark : anyone who puts fuel in their vehicle or uses a petroleum-based product is responsible for carbon emissions and other pollution. Not surprisingly, they left out the part that consumers don't have much a choice in the matter and that consumers would be able to reduce their carbon footprint if there were more renewable options and alternatives to carbon-intensive finite fossil fuels.
I was still in my listening mode and here is what they offered next: "We, the petroleum industry, have let others define us, and we need to change that."
This time, they conveniently omited scientific fact: no matter how much you try to redefine yourselves - carbon intensive finite fossil fuels, when burned, will always emit carbon and other pollutants. And fossil fuels, as their name implies, will not be regenerating anytime soon.
None of this would matter if this were some silly word game with PR spin doctors nor if some form of reason were prevalent in Washington. But here we have peddlers of propaganda twisting reality to sustain the fossil fuel status quo. More importantly, some policymakers either have, or are considering, adopting positions which could prop up petroleum while throwing a damaging blow to biofuels.
We will continue to call out the outright fictions where we need to do so to ensure policymakers build upon the success of the RFS. And the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association will continue to build upon the facts and science and make the case to bolster our allies and win over new supporters. We will continue to do that by using a three dimensional approach which highlight biofuels, such as ethanol, and their concomitant economic, consumer, energy independence and environmental benefits. Further, we will continue to remind policymakers that it is the RFS which provides those immediate benefits while holding promise for an even more sustainable and renewable future with biofuels.