Biofuels industry fights back with media blitz

“We believe that it’s not as well-known as it should be, the renewable fuel standard, and that what it supports is a really good thing for the economy, energy security, the environment,” Adam Monroe, president of biofuels firm Novozymes North America, told The Hill in an interview. “We just need to get that better understood by the policymakers and the public.”

Historically a regional issue, fiscally conservative lawmakers have begun to view the fuel standard as an example of needless government intervention in the energy market.

On top of that, the summer’s devastating drought has both Republicans and Democrats arguing that the biofuels requirements exacerbate food shortages.

Biofuels backers have responded aggressively, holding a series of meetings with lawmakers this month to try and shore up congressional support for the fuel standard.

The new media campaign announced Thursday morning will try to put a face on the biofuels industry by telling stories from rural communities, entrepreneurs and others who benefit from it, organizers said.

National security groups — some of which support biofuels as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil — think tanks and other potential industries will also lend support.

Industry groups would not elaborate on how much would be spent on the new campaign or what media would be used, but said the effort would continue indefinitely. They said the initial effort would focus on stories from Colorado, Delaware, Montana and Ohio, though it could include more states in the future.

One of the areas showcased in the first phase of the campaign is Marion, a rural town of about 66,000 people in central Ohio. It landed a $130 million biofuels facility that Pam Hall, the president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, said revitalized the community.

“It doesn’t seem that this particular issue is divided by party, and I think it is refreshing it is not,” Hall told The Hill. “What I can speak to is the health of our community and the very positive impact this industry has had, and we need to help people understand that both at the national and at the local level.”

The campaign’s primary aim is to fight off attacks on the renewable fuel standard, which industry groups said is necessary to maintain investment in more “advanced” biofuels that are just now starting to come online.

The standard requires refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into traditional transportation fuel by 2022. Of those 36 billion gallons, 21 must come from “advanced” biofuels — those made from non-edible sources — with the rest coming mainly from corn.

Currently, corn-based ethanol constitutes a majority of the biofuels market. Refiners must blend 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol into traditional fuel this year, a target that industry says will be met easily.

The most immediate threat to the fuel standard is a waiver request that would exempt refiners from blending corn ethanol into traditional gasoline.

Governors from a handful of states say that requirement has choked off corn supplies, making it difficult for livestock and poultry groups to find affordable feed during the drought.

That pressure has helped unite the oft-disjointed biofuels industry, Monroe said. He explained that the fuel standard sparked new technologies that went in separate directions, but all owe their origins to it. The idea of that ending has brought them back together, he said.

“I think the reason is, ironically, is there’s been so much technology that’s been advanced that a huge wave of different interests has come into this space,” Monroe said. “I think out of all that wave of innovation, possibly policymakers have gotten lost.”