DC Influencer: Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen speaks with Jaimy Lee about fighting misconceptions about ethanol

What key issues face the ethanol industry?

Dinneen: We are running up against the so-called "blend wall." In the US, we are limited to blending just 10% ethanol to a gallon of gasoline. As we are now producing more than 13 billion gallons in a 130-billion-gallon gas market, we can't blend much more ethanol into the existing gasoline pool until the EPA moves the blend-limitation beyond 10% or you have more flex-fuel vehicles.

There's a great deal of interest in addressing the ethanol tax-incentive program. There's an interest in reducing the cost of the program as the federal government looks to reduce spending. We will also have to work with Congress to reform the tax incentive in a way that lowers its cost, but still allows the industry to continue to grow.

What are the biggest challenges in getting your message out to policymakers?

Dinneen: There's been a well-financed, highly motivated campaign by those who don't share our vision of reducing our dependence on imported oil.

We're in a critical battle. There are folks who will continue to say that ethanol drives up food prices, when it does not; that ethanol pro- duction uses more energy than is derived from it, which it does not; and that ethanol provides no energy or consumer benefit, which it surely does. We fight those kinds of PR battles all the time. We're fighting entrenched interests with greater resources than us, but the facts are on our side.

Is there a need to better educate various audiences about ethanol?

Dinneen: November's elections resulted in 100-plus new members of Congress who have never been exposed to the ethanol policy debates. Many come with pre- conceptions we must unravel.

Again, most of these folks have an open mind and, when presented with the facts, are more than willing to recognize that ethanol today is providing tremendous benefits and is the foundation upon which new technologies, new feedstocks, and new fuels will evolve.

How do stories such as Japan's nuclear crisis impact the way you communicate about ethanol?

Dinneen: It adds to the narrative. Ethanol absolutely won't devastate the fragile ecology in the Gulf Coast. Ethanol is not radioactive and doesn't require a no-fly zone. That's why I want Congress to have a much more sober and comprehensive conversation about what we want and need our energy future to be. l

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