(Posted Mon. Feb 13th, 2017)
Commentary by Chris Novak, Chief Executive Officer, National Corn Growers Association
Growth Energy and its members met last week in Miami, Florida for their annual leadership conference. Next week, the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) will gather in San Diego, California for their National Ethanol Conference and in less than a month, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) will host its annual Fly-In in Washington D.C. Three different ethanol associations, holding three different meetings – each vital to our collective success. In the midst of these meetings, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on corn and ethanol’s shared history – and to consider what opportunities and challenges lie ahead.
For more than twenty years, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its state affiliates have worked side by side with the ethanol industry to bring ethanol-blended fuels to the marketplace. In so doing, the production of fuel ethanol has contributed significantly to our nation’s economy in terms of job creation, tax revenues and energy independence. At last check, 214 biorefineries in 29 states supported nearly 360,000 jobs and displaced 527 million barrels of foreign oil keeping $26 billion in the U.S. economy. That’s something to celebrate.
We have had many achievements and challenges along the way – too many, in fact, to name here. However, it is worth pointing out a few recent milestones, starting with the formation of the Prime the Pump (PtP) coalition in 2014. The purpose of PtP was to incentivize high-volume, independent fuel retailers to upgrade their fuel dispensing equipment to carry and market E15. NCGA contributed significantly to the work. Later, in mid-2015, the USDA announced its Biofuels Infrastructure Program. The matching grant program complemented the efforts of Prime the Pump and Corn again rallied to support the effort. Collectively, corn growers contributed approximately $4 million towards these two efforts to help build bio-fuels capacity in the market and now, two years later, more than 800 retail sites in 23 states are offering E15.
We’ve also experienced a few bumps in the road, as well, when, for the second time in as many years EPA put forward renewable volume obligation (RVO) numbers lower than was required by statute in May of 2016. NCGA and its members reacted quickly and helped the ethanol industry deliver a powerful message. In fact, more than 46,000 comments were submitted to the EPA through NCGA’s efforts. Fortunately, our voices were heard and in November, the EPA set the 2017 RVO levels to the levels originally intended by Congress.
This year has started off on a more positive note with the release of the USDA’s new report, “A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol,” which found that U.S. corn-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent compared to gasoline. These reductions are much greater than previous estimates, and while it might be ‘news’ to some, this is something our collective industries have known for a long time.
To be sure, validation and incremental regulatory relief are steps in the right direction, but our work is far from finished. We know that more work is required to achieve our stated goal of increasing ethanol utilization by four billion gallons by 2020. More is needed if we are to continue building capacity for renewable fuels in the market; to foster positive relationships within the new administration and Congress; and to positively affect ethanol demand both here in the U.S.A. and in foreign markets. Corn stands ready to continue supporting the work of our ethanol colleagues by helping maintain the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and by working to eliminate the subjective Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) thresholds that limit E15 sales during summer months. Likewise, we will continue to seek new ways to complement work already underway – such as continuing to encourage pump manufacturers to produce fuel dispensers capable of handling higher blends of cleaner-burning biofuels, and helping to increase retailer and consumer access to renewable fuels.
It is clear from the numbers that agriculture is fueling our nation’s growth. NCGA – along with our 40,000+ growers – are looking ahead toward an even stronger renewable future. We will continue to collaborate with our colleagues within the ethanol industry to make our voices heard in cities big and small and from sea-to-shining sea. #Cornstrong