POLITICS

Embattled ethanol group launches defense of RFS

Ethanol groups announced the start of a campaign today aimed at highlighting the positive impacts of biofuels on communities and the economy as part of an effort to defend the renewable fuel standard.

The Fuels America coalition will bring together ethanol, national security and agriculture interest groups to tout the RFS as critical to building a domestic biofuels industry.

The push will begin with advertising targeting Washington, D.C., and the states of Colorado, Ohio, Delaware and Montana. Organizers say the campaign will try to tell stories of "renewable fuel innovators and communities with a stake in maintaining the RFS."

"Our ultimate goal is to make sure that every member of Congress, every critical person in this administration and whichever administration takes over next year, as well as governors and other policymakers at the state level, understand ... that the renewable fuel standard is critical to America's leadership, and any thought of undoing it would do long and lasting and essentially unnecessary harm," said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Greenwood declined in a press call today to comment on how much the groups are spending on the campaign, which will be managed by the Glover Park Group. An ethanol industry insider told Greenwire a few weeks ago that the campaign would cost millions of dollars.

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In a conference call today, Greenwood briefly addressed the hiring of Glover Park, a D.C. lobbying firm that several years ago was retained by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to run what is seen as the major anti-ethanol advertising campaign (Greenwire, Sept. 7).

"Glover Park is good. They know the issue. They've changed their focus, and we're glad to have them on our side," Greenwood said.

The strategy is to begin by drawing attention to the RFS in states that have been successful in building up the biofuels industry through its help, the groups said today. These are states that demonstrate the breadth and depth of the advanced fuel and renewable fuel industry.

Ohio, a key swing state, will be among the first targeted states.

Pam Hall, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Marion, Ohio, said having an ethanol plant has helped turn the local economy around.

"In this election year, all eyes are on Ohio, and in Ohio our eyes are focused on growing our state's economy," Hall said. "For a rural community with a declining population and other economic challenges, the 2008 opening of a renewable fuel plant in Marion County was clearly something to celebrate."

The new campaign comes amid increasing attacks on the RFS, which cattle groups, lawmakers and state governors blame for exacerbating the drought's impact on the livestock industry. The standard this year mandates U.S. production of 13.2 billion gallons of traditional, corn-based ethanol, and critics say it has driven up the price of corn beyond what the livestock industry can handle.

The governors of eight states have requested that U.S. EPA waive the mandate for up to a year to relieve the pressure on livestock producers.

The Fuels America coalition warned today that such a waiver, or any other legislative action amending the standard, would put the brakes on the fledgling advanced biofuels industry. Investors, they said, have relied on the standard and would back away if there is any signal that the government is planning to weaken it.

"The possibility of opening it up and the process and how long that might take and all kinds of other factors are all the kinds of things that business people just hate hearing," said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, a provider of enzymes for ethanol production. "Because you just don't know where it's going to go.

"And I think one of the things that needs to be understood is that we don't need to necessarily pursue the perfect and throw out the good, because look at what it's achieved so far to date," he added.

The campaign will include interests from both the advanced biofuels and traditional ethanol industries and, as of now, has an indefinite future.

"This is not short-run. We know that we're confronted with an immediate threat that ... has been heightened by the drought," Greenwood said. "We know that there will always be those who don't see the value in this program or they have an agenda that they argue is counter to it. So I think we need to stay geared up for the foreseeable future."

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