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Knocking Down Ethanol Criticism from the Ground Up
by Kristin Brekke

"Right now, ethanol needs each one of its supporters to speak up,” says Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE).

“Ethanol’s opponents have deep pockets to support their campaign of misinformation, but support in terms of dollars does not outmatch the support of real people – but only if the people are willing to take action and set the record straight.”

The people have the power

ACE is working long hours to get the facts about ethanol in front of policymakers, the media, and the American public – press releases, Capitol Hill and Statehouse visits, media briefings, a letter to the editor campaign, and many other daily strategies. But, especially where the media is concerned, the words of a trade association only go so far.

“Too often the skeptical media dismisses the words of an ethanol association or an ethanol company as just us trying to promote our interests,” Jennings adds. “This is why it’s so important for people to speak up in favor of ethanol. The media will take notice when you as a subscriber, listener, or viewer stand up to call their attention to the facts.”

ACE will continue to explore every avenue for tackling the misinformation that’s out there, especially on the food and fuel issue, but there are two specific ways that ethanol supporters can be helpful in this fight.

“We are asking each ethanol supporter to help by taking two small, but powerful actions: write a letter to the editor and contact your Members of Congress,” Jennings said. “This grassroots activity will go a long way in turning the tide of negativity from the ground up.”

Letters to the Editor

“Contacting the media really does matter,” says Chuck Beck, ACE’s Communications Assistant, who comes to the organization with several years of newsroom experience.

“As someone who’s worked in both radio and television newsrooms, I can be the first to attest that a letter writing campaign does affect the media’s coverage on a certain topic. They know that their audience is interested in the topic and focused on it, and the readers or viewers can provide a perspective on the issue that they may not have explored until it was brought to their attention.”

ACE has announced an effort to target a different urban newspaper every two weeks between May and August. As noted on pages 10 and 11 of this month’s magazine, this “Join the Revolution” campaign seeks to bring the truth about ethanol to the forefront during this time when the oil industry and grocery industry are spending millions to halt the progress of biofuels.

To learn more about the campaign, log on to Ethanol.org and click on the “Join the Revolution – The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” link on the homepage.

In addition to writing a letter to ACE’s current urban media target, supporters are encouraged to keep in touch with their local media to keep the facts in front of them on ethanol. By clicking on the ‘Take Action’ button on Ethanol.org, you will be directed to ACE’s Legislative Action Center, which contains a quick and easy Web form for writing a pro-ethanol letter to your local media.

“Contacting the media only takes a few minutes, but those few minutes are an important investment in the way ethanol is viewed by the media and the public,” Jennings said.

Jennings notes that each letter on its own is important, but if the effort of one ethanol supporter is multiplied by 1,500 other ACE members who also take action, then the impact is truly large and persuasive. And if each ACE member writes a letter and then tells a friend or colleague who also writes a letter, the impact is exponential and the groundswell of ethanol support will be felt.

 

Letters to the Editor: Best Practices

Tip #1: Keep it current

-- Write about a timely topic, one that is currently being or has recently been covered.

-- Reference the date, author, and title of the article or editorial to which you’re responding.

Tip #2: Be concise and specific

-- Focus on your topic and make your point clear.

-- Using an example from your own life can enhance the persuasiveness of your letter.

Tip #3: Follow the paper’s guidelines

-- Comply with any limits set on length or word count.

-- Supply any of your contact information requested by the paper.

Tip #4: Share your efforts

-- If you write a pro-ethanol letter, ACE would like to know. Forward a copy to revolution@ethanol.org

-- Letters can also be shared with your political representatives as a reminder of what’s on the minds of their constituents.

 

Contacting Congress

As they make decisions each day on your behalf in Washington, DC, it is the job of your Representative and Senators to listen to your opinions as their constituent. Reminding your Members of Congress about ethanol’s benefits to your community and about the facts in the food-fuel conversation is the second way that ethanol supporters need to take action today in support of ethanol.

“Members of Congress most definitely want to hear from their constituents,” Erica Swisher, an agriculture research assistant for U.S. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, tells Ethanol Today. “Constituent correspondence is a great way to gauge what issues are important to the general public, and feedback from constituents is often useful for Members of Congress during the decision-making process.”

Congressional office staff members encourage people to keep in mind that their offices receive large amounts of mail each day, so for a letter to have maximum impact, it’s important to make its message as clear and concise as possible.

According to Capitol Advantage, which hosts the Legislative Action Center service on ACE’s website and specializes in facilitating grassroots communication to elected officials, letters or e-mails in the constituent’s own words are listed by Congressional offices as by far the most effective – and persuasive – method of communicating on important issues.

Making your letter “personalized” does not mean you have to share deeply personal information or use overly emotional language. Instead, share a few sentences of specific information about how the ethanol impacts you, your family, and/or your community. This will let your Members of Congress know that constituents like you have a personal stake in the issue.

On its website, Capitol Advantage notes, “A personal example is a great help in demonstrating the passion you have for the issue without having to resort to overly-emotional language. Your personal example doesn't have to be very long. Two or three sentences at the beginning of your message should be enough to show the recipient why you care so strongly about the issue. You can make your message stand out if you take the time to fully explain your experience.”

Swisher adds that Congressional offices do, of course, read constituent mail that comes as a form letter or form e-mail, but that letters and e-mails written personally by constituents are most effective.

“A letter or e-mail that is well thought out, concise, respectful, and expresses a personal perspective can provide more insight than a letter where a constituent simply had to click ‘send,’” she notes.

Visit the “Take Action” page at Ethanol.org to visit ACE’s Legislative Action Center, which has an easy-to-use web form where you can write letters to your Members of Congress with just a few clicks of the mouse. Any important ethanol-related bills will be highlighted here, and ACE supplies background information and talking points as references to help construct your letter asking your representatives to support or oppose these bills.

 

Letters to Congress: Best Practices

Tip #1: Stick to the point

-- The very first line of your letter should state your purpose.

-- Keep your comments clear, concise, and to one key topic.

Tip #2: Be specific

-- Instead of generalizing, refer to a specific piece of legislation.

-- Include the bill number.

Tip #3: Personalize it

-- Identify yourself and why you care about ethanol.

-- Share brief personal story or real-world experience to demonstrate ethanol’s impact.

 

ACE encourages all ethanol supporters to get involved today by taking a few moments to write a letter to the editor and to write to their Members of Congress.

“Peoples’ support of ethanol can be a tide-turner in the food-fuel conversation,” Jennings says. “Let’s see what we as grassroots ethanol advocates can get done by speaking up for what we know is right.”

 
© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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