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ACE Brings Grassroots Ethanol Advocates to Capitol Hill
by Lacey Dixon

At the American Coalition for Ethanol’s 2010 Biofuels Beltway March, it was easy to see that ethanol’s grassroots army is a focused, passionate group of domestic energy advocates. For two days on Capitol Hill, these advocates delivered ethanol’s positive message to more than 60 Congressional offices.

On March 22 and 23, nearly 30 members of ACE came together in Washington, DC from farms, ethanol plants, and ethanol-related businesses across Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, South Dakota, and Missouri. Their message – ethanol is important to them and their communities.

Patriot Renewable Energy Chairman and CEO Gene Griffith and his wife Kathy were among the fly-in participants during this second-annual event. Gene said that ethanol’s positive story includes being a “clean burning, homegrown, renewable fuels that contributes positively to the U.S. balance of payments and security interests.”

“With all the special interest groups attacking ethanol, it’s important for ethanol producers to be sure our elected officials know us and the contributions we’re making to our national priorities,” he added.

ACE organized the first “Biofuels Beltway March” in 2009 to connect ethanol advocates with lawmakers – both to give lawmakers the chance to hear about the value of ethanol from those participating in the industry, and to give advocates the opportunity to tell their stories and participate in the legislative process.

Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE, emphasizes that there is no better way to communicate the importance of ethanol than through the voices of the farmers, producers, and business owners that represent the industry.

“We do this grassroots fly-in because we think that grassroots advocates of ethanol can convey to members of Congress the importance of ethanol and ethanol policies in a way that no paid lobbyist can, ” he said. “We believe that members of Congress want to hear from those voices and that is why we came to DC.”

Biofuels boot camp

Participants gathered on the morning of the first day to receive the latest information on policies impacting the industry, today’s ethanol marketplace, and studies impacting EPA’s consideration of an E15 waiver.

Jennings, along with ACE’s lobbyist Eric Washburn, provided details on ethanol policies, and ACE Vice President / Market Development Ron Lamberty spoke on blending economics and the importance of increasing the number of ethanol blender pumps nationwide.

In addition to the ACE leadership, participants heard from two representatives from the Office of Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. Steve Przesmitzki, Fuels and Lubricants Technology Manager, and Joan Glickman, Special Assistant for Renewable Energy, discussed ongoing testing of E15 in vehicles from years 2001 and newer for the ongoing E15 waiver consideration.

Przesmitzki and Glickman told participants that, to date, ongoing vehicle testing has not indicated problems with E15 use in the considered vehicles and the Department anticipates an announcement on the E15 waiver by the end of summer.

Brendon Plack, energy legislative assistant to U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), also gave a presentation to the group and commended fly-in lobbyists for sharing ethanol’s message in their upcoming visits on the Hill. He encouraged them to communicate the policies most important to them using data and research, as well as their experiences. Plack reiterated the value of conversing with state leaders on ethanol because of its value to states, to the region, and to the country in terms of job creation and energy security.

Taking ethanol’s message to the Hill

After the morning briefing, participants divided into teams and headed up to Capitol Hill with two key priorities in hand: communicating the importance of extending key tax credits, and emphasizing the value of consumer choice for motorists and ethanol producers.

Specifically, the group lobbied Congress for an extension of ethanol tax credits including VEETC, the Small Ethanol Producer Tax Credit, and the Secondary Tariff, as well as for legislation that would provide incentives for the installation of blender pumps and an increased availability of Flexible Fuel Vehicles that can help expand the use of ethanol.

Teams of three, four, or five met with Congressional offices to present the issues and field questions. Having ACE members from a variety of different backgrounds on each team illustrated how the ethanol industry has wide-ranging, positive impacts on agriculture, energy, the economy, and the environment.

Chris Schwarck, renewable energy entrepreneur and a board member at several Iowa ethanol plants, explained that “hearing all sides of the issues on a first-hand basis from our legislators and their staffs gave us a better view of the issues and the complexities surrounding them.” He added that these interactions in support of tax incentives “did more good than all the cards and letters I encouraged people to send.”

On the evening of the first day, the ethanol supporters gathered back at the Phoenix Park Hotel for a reception to share feedback from the day. Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) spoke to the group and reinforced the importance of the personal messages being delivered to House and Senate offices. She stressed the need to get VEETC reauthorized and to look farther down the road to increase the number of blender pumps and FFVs to grow the marketplace for ethanol.

"In order to achieve the goals the country set for itself in the Renewable Fuels Standard, I believe we must do more to speed the installation of blender pumps to serve communities nationwide,” Herseth-Sandlin said. “I'm proud to stand with the American Coalition for Ethanol as part of that effort."

ACE’s presence on the Hill proved to be very timely. A bill to extend VEETC was introduced just days after the fly-in by Congressmen Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and John Shimkus (R-IL). At press time, HR 4940, the “Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act,” has 29 co-sponsors, many of whom reported back to ACE about conversations they had with fly-in participants.

Griffith explained that last year’s fly-in event prompted him and his wife to take a more active role in speaking with legislative leaders. Now, after two years of grassroots lobbying with ACE, he says they have not only gotten to know their Senators and Representatives in Illinois, but also some from Iowa and Minnesota.

“They know what we are producing, how much DDGS Patriot is exporting, the jobs we have created, and the positive impact we are having on our agricultural communities,” he said. “Without the ACE invitation last year I’m not sure we would have taken the initiative to make these valuable connections.”

Schwarck agreed that coming together as an industry team led to new connections on the Hill and in the industry. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said, “and being there face-to-face is worth a thousand pictures.”

2010 ACE Fly-In Participants

Nick Bowdish

Platinum Ethanol

Carroll , IA

Jerry Calease

Golden Grain Energy

Waverly, IA

Gary Clark

Missouri Corn Growers Association

Jefferson City , MO

Bill Couser

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and Lincolnway Energy, LLC

Nevada , IA

Raymond Defenbaugh

Big River Resources, LLC

Biggsville , IL

Ron Fagen

Fagen Inc.

Granite Falls , MN

John Gray

Hawkeye Gold

Ames, IA

Gene Griffith

Patriot Renewable Fuels

Geneseo , IL

Kathy Griffith

Patriot Renewable Fuels

Geneseo , IL

Richard Hanson

Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co.

Clontarf , MN

Lars Herseth

Houghton , SD

Thomas Hitchcock

Redfield Energy

Huron , SD

Kevin Hurst

Missouri Corn Growers Association

Tarkio , MO

Owen Jones

Britton , SD

Randy Knecht

Houghton , SD

Mark Marquis

Marquis Energy, LLC

Peoria , IL

Gary Marshall

Missouri Corn Growers Association

Jefferson City , MO

Scott Parsley

East River Electric Power Cooperative, Inc.

Madison , SD

Leland Roe

Glacial Lakes Energy LLC

Hazel , SD

Terry Schmidt

Glacial Lakes Energy LLC

Sioux Falls , SD

Chris Schwarck

Absolute Energy, LLC

Mason City , IA

Bob Scott

Sioux Falls , SD

Matthew Sederstrom

Fagen Inc.

Marshall , MN

Richard Wiarda

Glacial Lakes Energy LLC

Castlewood , SD

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industry’s hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanol’s carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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