By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
As we look ahead and take stock of the year past, it’s clear that by working together, we have once again surmounted many challenges. Whether it’s been the push back to attacks on the RFS or helping independent fuel retailer chains in making the transition from mid-grade fuel to E15, we did it. Through all these challenges, at the state and federal level and in the field with fuel retailers, equipment installers and consumers, we remained true to our organizational mission to once again deliver incremental, meaningful and tangible results in 2017.
More pointedly, our supporters helped to make possible our work on the ground to lead various battles to lower artificial barriers to both biofuel producers and biofuels. Practically speaking, these battles have been, for instance, over the RVOs proposed by the EPA; the role of mid-level blends in boosting engine performance while driving down GHG emissions; rallying support for ASTM International testing standards favorable to E15 and advanced biofuels; implementing sophisticated and targeted social media campaigns, promotional events and school tours of ethanol plants; and leading the efforts to build the network of E15 fuel retailers, fuel brands and sales volume in Minnesota.
With a clear organizational mission and aggressive project goals, with our competent and highly motivated team and with adequate resources, we have demonstrated that almost anything is possible. To wit, the many projects managed and actualized by the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association. We broadly categorize these projects as advocacy, communications and education and fuel supply chain. During 2017, we threaded the project needle and stitched together the right combination of advocacy and education and facilitation of the fuel supply chain so as to further lower barriers to biofuels and substantially increase access to E15.
On the legislative and advocacy front, we joined other RFS proponents to make the case for minimal changes to the RVOs. Without getting too deep in the weeds on this, we underscored the disconnect between the congressional intent of the RFS and the damaging cuts proposed by the EPA.
As part of our effort to keep strong the RFS, we testified before the EPA in Washington, D.C. and later submitted substantive written comments. We also engaged with the EPA’s midterm review of the CAFE Standards and GHG emission targets for automakers, emphasizing on the costly reality of inaction with regard to climate change, the performance characteristics of mid-level blends of ethanol and existing engine technology.
And just a few words about ASTM International. This is another example of how we seek to have a high, positive impact for the industry at the most strategic level possible. ASTM International is the standards setting organization for virtually everything in the world of commerce including petroleum and biofuels. Within ASTM International, we work with colleagues from within the realm of biofuels as well as research labs to ensure the standards set a level playing field between petroleum and biofuels.
In terms of E15 sales, we need to be mindful that having the dispensing infrastructure in place is not enough to get consumers to use E15. Having a 10 cent (or even a 20 cent) price differential between regular fuel and E15 is not always enough to get consumers to use it. We still have to continue educating consumers and promoting E15 to increase sales volumes. In October, E15 sales breached the 3 million gallon mark in Minnesota for the first time. But considering the number of stations now offering E15, we're still some way from making it the new regular.
Lessons Learned for What’s Ahead
As we head into 2018, we have an excellent foundation to build upon. And we will need to use that foundation on day one of the new year.
Given the renewed push by Marathon Oil and other anti-biofuel interests, I expect the attacks on the RFS will continue to grow. But we plan to do our part to keep strong the laws which help strengthen the biofuel industry. Until petroleum products reflect their true external costs (e.g., military defense, environmental damage, climate change), we need a strong RFS and Minnesota Petroleum Replacement Law. This also means we will continue to monitor and serve as the guardian of 43 statutes in Minnesota.
On the regulatory front in Minnesota, the biofuel industry continues to be a dynamic industry. With constantly evolving biological processes and the availability of advanced production technology, regulators have been challenged to keep up with the industry. Over the past year we have charted a new course by working in cooperation with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency so as to achieve a meaningful level of regulatory flexibility for biofuel producers. We aim to continue the push forward with this innovative regulatory framework to serve a variety of biofuel producers including those who will be using a variety of advanced biofuel qualified feedstock.
For 2018 we also plan to expand the capability of our social media platforms to reach even greater numbers of potential E15 consumers. And we will work to maintain the high quality of our school tours while further expanding our reach into high schools and secondary education classrooms. We also plan to expand our reach into the retail, wholesale and fleet vehicle markets. With respect to fleet operations, we aim to ensure greater access to E15 and E85 for state, county and municipal vehicle operators.
And we will explore new pathways by which to address the RVP challenge and thereby liberate an additional 25 percent in market potential for E15.
All of these new or expanded initiatives are possible, but only with the continued support from our stakeholders. As we look ahead to 2018, we need to work together and work smart. We need to build upon the foundation laid in 2017 so as to pave the way for greater volumes of biofuel, including advanced biofuels, in the marketplace. By doing so, we will move closer to fulfilling the actual intent of the RFS and the Minnesota Petroleum Replacement Law.
Happy New Year.