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Defending RFS against ‘Big Oil’

By Staff | Nov 27, 2013

Myrna Heddinger Mayor of Emmetsburg

EMMETSBURG – Two national organizations – Americans United for Change and VoteVets.org -initiated on Tuesday (Nov. 19) what they called a counteroffensive against large oil companies, accusing “Big Oil” of polluting the public discourse on biofuels, especially ethanol.

They were joined in a teleconference with national media outlets by Myrna Heddinger, mayor of Emmetsburg, whose town has two ethanol plants, owned by POET – a corn-based ethanol plant and a cellulosic plant set to go into production in 2014.

Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, based in Washington, D.C., since 2005, described the bipartisan renewable fuels standard – created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 – as “common sense law” designed to wean the U.S. from foreign oil dependency.

“Because of the RFS,” Woodhouse said, “we now get almost 10 percent of our fuel from clean, renewable sources.”

He accused the oil industry’s efforts to see the RFS eliminated by mounting “a misleading, self-serving scare campaign” against ethanol and biofuels production, because it is losing market share to the biofuels industry.

Woodhouse said ethanol is 60 to 80 cents less on the wholesale market to produce than gasoline.

“Ethanol saves us $1 billion per week,” Woodhouse said,” that otherwise would be sent overseas. That’s money being invested here at home making our country and economy stronger. Other biofuels are coming on line using ag waste. This can be transformative. They are small now, but they can be the biggest threat Big Oil has ever faced.”

The oil industry is pushing back by “pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken the RFS, effectively requiring less biofuel and more foreign oil in our gasoline,” Woodhouse said.

If biofuels continue to be successful, he charged, the oil industry fears losing even more market share.

Jon Soltz, founder of VoteVets.org, based in Portland, Ore., since 2006, said the renewable fuels industry is a jobs issue for veterans returning to the U.S. from Middle East duties in protecting U.S. access to foreign oil sources.

Soltz, who said he served in the Army in Kosovo in 2000 and Iraq in 2003, said the U.S.’s dependency on foreign oil helps oil producing countries like Iran develop advanced weaponry and put it into anti-American hands.

He pledged his 360,000 members will get involved during the hearing process. Soltz said to be opposed to the RFS “is funding people who kill our troops.

“Oil is a blood diamond and has cost us thousands and thousands of lives.”

He also called the RFS as a veterans’ job issue.

“One-third of the (returning) troops are turning to rural communities as guards and reserves,” he said. “Unemployment is high among veterans, and ethanol is putting them to work.”

Heddinger said the two POET plants in her community have transformed the economic base of Emmetsburg and are an economic boon since every community within Palo Alto County has felt positive impacts.

“These are also future employment for the young people we are trying to bring back to the community,” Heddinger said. “These are jobs that will be appealing to them. It’s also good for local truckers who are getting additional sources of income.”

“We are urging all those involved – the president and the EPA,” Woodhouse told reporters, “to stand firm beside American consumers. Renewable fuels are made here, and the jobs can’t be outsourced. We’ve been tied down in too many conflicts overseas related to securing imports of foreign oil.”

He said this counteroffensive to defend the RFS against Big Oil will be waged with lobbying “a wide range of Washington decision-makers,” as well as educating consumers through digital media, paid advertising and earned media. Earned media is when a brand name, or campaign, receives publicity that it did not pay for, unlike an advertisement.

He said the effort is to “get like-minded citizens to speak out on this issue, from grassroots to grasstops.”

When asked what would happen to Emmetsburg if the cellulosic plant were not to go into operation, Heddinger said, “I have no thought it will not start-up. It’s a plant for the future.”

Woodhouse noted that the biofuels industry has made significant investments to develop “next generation” fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.

“Those investments won’t be made if the RFS goes away,” he said.

SIDEBAR

POET responds to EPA’s renewable fuel volume numbers for 2014

Proposed volumes would hurt drivers, cellulosic ethanol development

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Jeff Lautt, POET’s chief executive officer, on Nov. 15, responded to the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement of the renewable volume obligations for 2014 in a prepared statement.

“The EPA’s proposed renewable fuel volumes are well below what the ethanol industry is capable of supplying for American drivers in 2014, and POET plans to address the issue in detailed comments to the agency.

“America is looking at a possible record corn crop,” Lautt said, “and the opportunity to offer more affordable fuel options to consumers has never been better. At the same time, cellulosic ethanol capacity is coming online in a large part thanks to significant investment from grain ethanol producers such as POET.

“The proposed reduction from EPA is troubling, as it not only cuts grain ethanol use below the levels set by Congress, it cuts them to a level below the 13.8 billion gallons that was met in 2013.”

Ethanol use this year remained strong, he said, even in the midst of a drought, primarily due to ethanol’s significant price discount to gasoline. Moving backwards from 2013 would not only cost drivers at the pump, it would undermine the positive impact ethanol has had in lowering tailpipe emissions and improving the greenhouse gas footprint of transportation fuel.

“Additionally, cellulosic ethanol capacity is being built to take advantage of shared infrastructure,” Lautt said, “expertise and investment from grain ethanol producers. Its development and expansion depends on grain ethanol’s continued success. Our world has been beholden to the oil industry for a century, and ethanol has provided the first real alternative to gasoline in history.

“The RFS was created to provide a choice to consumers outside of oil-based fuel. We must seek ways to build on that work, not move backwards.”

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