Ethanol essay

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY -- In May, Missouri Corn Growers Association (MCGA) CEO Gary Marshall decided to write a letter.

After a two-year effort from Marshall's organization, the Missouri Department of Agriculture issued a rule allowing the sale of E15, a blend of 15-percent ethanol and 85-percent gasoline, in Missouri.

AAA, the national motor club, raised objections about ethanol, and Marshall says he felt it was time to write a letter to AAAs president.

"We saw that AAA had made a lot of disparaging comments to the (Environmental Protection Agency) about ethanol," Marshall said.

The EPA has approved E15 for use in vehicles with a model 2001 or newer.

In his letter, Marshall cited a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that said AAA "has pushed back against the E15 standard, saying that 90 percent of the cars on the road are not approved by automakers to use the fuel. That could void warranties and cause engine damage, the group said."

In his letter, Marshall refuted these allegations, saying 80 percent of cars on the road are 2001 or newer and therefore approved to use E15.

He also challenged AAAs concerns about warranties, saying the use of fuels and fuel additives not listed in an owner's manual does not necessarily void a warranty.

Marshall closed by canceling his longtime AAA membership.

"On a personal note, I have been a member of AAA for 33 years," Marshall wrote.

"I refuse to support an organization so clearly aligned with the oil industry and am canceling my AAA membership effective immediately."

Marshall said AAA also opposed the approval of E10 as a fuel.

"If they're not going to support rural America, if they're not going to support farmers, if they're not going to support reducing dependence on foreign oil, I don't need AAA," he said.

Marshall said he has not received a reply from AAA yet, but he has heard a lot of supportive response from corn producers.

Marshall's letter is the latest example of the efforts by the Missouri Corn Growers and other ethanol supporters to advocate for the product and make it more available to consumers.

Opposition continues from the petroleum industry and others, so the political and public relations battle continues.

Marshall said getting E15 available for sale in Missouri was a long process.

"We started working about two years ago asking (the Department of Agriculture) to change their rules so we could sell E15 here in Missouri," Marshall said.

". . . It was a long, involved process with plenty of opportunities for everyone to participate."

The state issued the rule this spring, making Missouri the 13th state to allow the sale of E15.

The rule does not mandate fuel in Missouri must be 15 percent ethanol, but rather it makes E15 an option for consumers.

This summer, E15 will be available only in St. Louis because it is an "ozone non-attainment area," and oil companies must make their summer fuel stock available to blend with ethanol there.

The rest of the state is expected to have access to E15 in September. Marshall said this gives time for the MCGA to work with fuel marketers to get them ready to sell E15.

Marshall said MFA Oil has reached out to the association about getting pumps converted and ready to sell E15.

"It gives us a few months to prepare and work with those marketers," Marshall said.

The sale of E15 in Missouri could boost the state's ethanol industry, which has been recovering from the historic 2012 drought.

"Just like the livestock industry has bounced back (from the drought) strong, so has the ethanol industry," Marshall said. "They're experiencing some good times where they're paying down debt."

Marshall said much of the outlook for the state's ethanol industry depends on what the EPA does with Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) numbers going forward and the Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) numbers, which are the target numbers used to implement the RFS.

The EPA is supposed to be releasing new RVO numbers this month.

"It's really unclear with the EPA having not decided what the RVO numbers are," Marshall said. "If they're positive, if they go back to where they're supposed to be statutorily, (the ethanol outlook) is going to be good."

Despite the uncertainty over these numbers, Marshall said the ethanol market has been solid.

"While the EPA is fooling around with those numbers, the actual marketplace is doing pretty well," he said.

The public-relations battles of ethanol continue, but Marshall said he is pleased with ethanol's success in this area.

"The ethanol industry is thriving," he said. "The oil industry has . . . thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into stopping ethanol, and they haven't been successful."