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Fighting for ethanol

WASHINGTON -- The Biotechnology Industry Organization, DuPont and other groups with a stake in the biofuels industry have joined with ethanol groups to launch a campaign called Fuels America to defend the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Faced with a campaign by the oil industry, meat groups and the governors of some meat-producing states who are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Congress to reduce or waive the RFS on the grounds that the drought has raised feed prices, the advanced biofuels groups decided it had to inform the American public that the RFS is vital to the development of advanced biofuels, said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, at a news conference Sept. 27.

"Fuels America is built around one core idea: renewable fuel is essential to the U.S. economy, our nation's energy security, our rural communities and the environment," Greenwood said.

"More than 400,000 American jobs are supported by renewable transportation fuel, and America leads the world in renewable fuel innovation," he said. "That is why Fuels America's diverse membership has come together to reset the national conversation on renewable fuel, protect the progress that has been made and ensure that America's Renewable Fuel Standard continues its success."

The coalition includes the National Farmers Union and National Association of Wheat Growers and National Sorghum Producers, which represent farmers whose production would be used in commercialized biofuels other than corn-based ethanol.

The coalition is making the point that the RFS is vital to the development of advanced biofuels and that tinkering with it could cause investors to lose confidence.

"The RFS has been key to our investments and sets a clear road map" for the industry, said Jim Imbler, president and CEO of Lakewood, Colo.-based ZeaChem Inc.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard has created billions in investment and created hundreds of thousands of careers," said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. He added that even an effort in Congress to alter the RFS slightly is something that "business people hate hearing because you don't know where it is going."

Other threats

While meat groups have said that the high feed prices brought on by the drought threaten the food supply for the United States and around the world, retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, president of the American Council On Renewable Energy said the country needs to "displace other threats" such as imported oil.

The coalition has launched a website and a Twitter presence.

The campaign will be a national effort with advertising, beginning in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Ohio, Delaware and Montana, Greenwood said. Each state will have its own online platform reachable through the group's website, and feature the stories of renewable fuel innovators and communities with a stake in maintaining the RFS.

Greenwood said the point of the campaign is to reach members of Congress and officials in either a second administration of President Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney administration, as well as governors who might be inclined to call for changes to the RFS.

Greenwood, a former Republican House member from Pennsylvania, said the Obama administration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been vocal defenders of the RFS and that Romney has been steadfast in his support, but that the campaign is needed because presidents are sometimes faced with must-pass legislation that includes provisions they don't like. The campaign will last "as long as it takes" to preserve the RFS, he said.

Public relations effort

The effort will be managed by the Glover Park Group, a Washington public relations firm that previously worked for a coalition opposed to the RFS. Asked whether it was odd that the coalition had hired a public relations firm that had worked for the opposition, Greenwood said, "Glover Park is good, they know the issue" and that the coalition was glad to be able to use the company's services.

Greenwood said the advanced biofuels industry cannot raise the amount of money that the oil, gas and coal industries have mounted for their television campaigns, but said the group does not need that much money to make its case.

"Our fight is less up hill. We are correctly perceived as a clean, innovative [path to a] sustainable future."

Many of the arguments made in the food vs. fuel debate are "bogus," Greenwood said, but the coalition "does not deny or downplay the seriousness of the drought the country is experiencing or the economic pain that it is causing for the livestock and poultry industries."

But he added that he thinks other government programs or new emergency measures could be taken at either the federal or state level to address the problem.

Fuels America members include 25x25, Growth Energy, Abengoa Bioenergy, National Association of Wheat Growers, ACORE, National Corn Growers Association, Advanced Ethanol Council, National Farmers Union, American Coalition for Ethanol, National Sorghum Producers, American Security Project, Novozymes, BIO, Poet, DuPont, and the Renewable Fuels Association.