Allowing higher blends of ethanol has become a priority in Washington.
In March, the ethanol advocacy organization Growth Energy submitted the Green Jobs Waiver to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking approval of blends of up to 15 percent ethanol in standard vehicles, an increase from the current 10 percent level.
The issue has sparked heated debate in the national media, with both opponents and proponents vying for the public’s attention on a daily basis. Grassroots efforts from each side have garnered an outpouring of public participation.
“We are aware of over 11,000 Americans who have already voiced their support for a higher blend of ethanol, and we’ve got members on both sides of the aisle supporting the Green Jobs Waiver,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said.
Dozens of Senators and Representatives have come out in support of the waiver, along with governors and state and local officials across the country. “When everyone from Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to Senator (John) Thune are on the same page on an issue, you know you’ve got something good for America,” Buis said.
Official support for higher blends of ethanol is coming even from beyond the halls of Congress. New statements from the Obama administration in May bolstered the ethanol industry’s case for more consumer access to ethanol.
In a May 27 letter to the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, President Barack Obama reinforced ethanol’s important role in the nation’s energy supply and noted the importance of greater market access to making cellulosic ethanol a reality.
“This transition will be successful only if the first-generation biofuels industry remains viable in the near-term, and if we remove longstanding artificial barriers to market expansion necessary for large volumes of advanced renewable fuels to find a place in American’s transportation fuels system,” Obama said in the letter.
The President’s comments were a response to a February letter from the coalition of 35 governors, which, among other things, called for an immediate increase in the ethanol blend rate to 13 percent while the EPA considered the Green Jobs Waiver.
Growth Energy welcomed Obama’s comments.
“We thank President Obama for his continued leadership in promoting clean, green, American ethanol as a long-term solution to our addiction to foreign oil,” Buis said. “As the only available alternative to foreign oil, America’s ethanol producers share the President’s commitment to increasing our energy independence, creating new green-collar jobs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through greater use of ethanol.”
Other groups joined in the praise to the administration.
“We are pleased to hear the president’s clear statement of cornbased ethanol’s pivotal role in the nation’s future energy strategy, and we will continue to make sure the Administration understands the current and future value of corn ethanol,” said National Corn Growers Association President Bob Dickey. “This also reinforces his previous position that artificial barriers to market expansion need to be addressed in order for large volumes of renewable fuels to find a place in America’s transportation fuels system.”
President Obama’s opinion was reiterated a short time later by statements from U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the Reuters Global Energy Summit in Washington, D.C. Allowing higher blends of ethanol has clearly become a priority in Washington.
“If it turns out the existing automobile fleet … could accept that, it would be good if we can go up to 12 or 13 percent,” Chu told Reuters reporters.
Those statements are in addition to the support of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has said the government should move quickly to approve ethanol blends of 12-13 percent, with an eventual move to 15 percent, or even 20 percent ethanol.
The Environmental Protection Agency has until Dec. 1 to rule on the waiver request.
MORE TIME FOR PUBLIC COMMENT
Amidst that backdrop of support from the government, the timeframe was extended for public action on the Green Jobs Waiver.
The Environmental Protection Agency extended the comment period, which was set to expire on May 21, to July 20. The move was a response to requests by groups including the National Corn Growers Association to allow farmers and others in the agriculture industry time to finish the planting season before the cutoff for comments.
That move is also extending efforts by Growth Energy to allow its advocates to be heard. The organization has been hard at work motivating those who support ethanol’s benefits to the nation’s economy, environment and security.
WAIVER OPPOSITION HEATS UP
In recent months, some opposition to the Green Jobs Waiver has surfaced, Buis said.
“Our opponents in this debate are also mobilizing their interests and getting their comments to the EPA,” Buis said.
Much of that opposition has come from the boating and small engine manufacturers, who claim that their engines are not equipped to handle higher blends of ethanol.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association has taken notice of the ethanol industry’s efforts.
“Ethanol Advocates are mobilizing their forces to submit 20,000 favorable comments to EPA requesting that the Agency grant a waiver for E15. Let’s beat them at their own game,” the organization wrote in literature to its members.
Buis said their concerns are unfounded; the waiver is about giving consumers a choice.
“We believe that by working together we can introduce multiple blends of ethanol to the market, everything from E0 to E15,” Buis said. “We’re not asking for a mandate. We’re asking for fuel choice for Americans. At Growth Energy we’re concerned about our energy independence, creating new green-collar jobs, and taking care of our environment, and we know that moving to a higher blend of ethanol will help us meet these goals.”
The waiver request is supported by sound science, Buis said.
“E15 is the most tested fuel in the history of the EPA waiver process, so consumers can feel comfortable putting it in their vehicles,” he said.
Both grain and cellulosic ethanol producers, agriculture organizations and others have joined forces in promoting E15.
Growth Energy, through press conference, online activities and media outreach, has made considerable progress.
“Growth Energy has activated thousands of grassroots constituents and numerous stakeholder groups at the local, state and national levels,” Buis said.
Ethanol advocates have written letters to the editor for their local papers, contacted local, state and national representatives, commented to the EPA and more.
Buis is pointing people toward the organization’s Web site devoted to the cause: www.GoE15.com. There, you can find background material about the waiver request, including the studies that have been done that show ethanol is safe for the nation’s vehicle fleet. There is also information about how to contact the Obama Administration or members of Congress, talk to local media or spread the word to friends about the benefits of ethanol. And before July 20, you can quickly fill out a comment form for submission to the EPA.
“This is the most important issue facing the ethanol industry today, and Growth Energy is encouraging all those who know how vital ethanol is to their families and their future to join the fight by making their voices heard,” Buis said.
As a quick primer, Buis neatly sums up the case for E15: “Increasing the blend to 15 percent is supported by sound science, will create more than 136,000 greencollar jobs, inject $24.4 billion into the U.S. economy, displace seven billion gallons of imported gasoline per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons per year – the equivalent of removing 3.5 million vehicles from our roads,” he said. “It would also ensure a market for the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry. The only thing preventing ethanol from doing more is a nearly 30-year-old government rule arbitrarily limiting ethanol to 10 percent of our fuel supply.