Iowa Public Television


Renewable Fuels Summit Includes Politics And NASCAR

posted on January 28, 2011

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As is customary in State of the Union Addresses, President Obama also called for America to overcome its addiction to foreign oil.

Though he failed to speak directly about climate change, Obama's clean energy priorities would offer environmental benefits.

America's ethanol producers say their product reduces carbon monoxide emissions by as much as 30 percent and every barrel of ethanol displaces 1.2 barrels of petroleum.

This week, ethanol proponents -- a few of them mulling a presidential bid in 2012, met in the nation's top ethanol-producing state, Iowa, to extol the virtues of homegrown energy -- AND to test the waters for a possible run for the White House. David Miller explains.

Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, Iowa:"My good friend, Newt Gingrich, please join me in giving him a very warm Iowa welcome."

Testing the waters for a run at the White House, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives appeared in front a crowd of about 700 in Des Moines, Iowa this week as producers and equipment suppliers met to discuss the future of biofuels.

One of the main topics of conversation was the approval of E15 – a mix of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia: "It is to develop an Environmental Solutions Agency to replace the Environmental Protection Agency. The Environmental Protection Agency says 'no you can't do that because.' They really in many ways are hostile to all new technology, hostile to local community control, hostile to the business community, hostile to the marketplace.'

"Please welcome Senator Santorum."

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, also considering a run for President of the United States, defended his early opposition to ethanol subsidies.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania: "We weren't quite sure this was real that this was not just another way for another farm subsidy....It didn't sound like at the time it was a particular efficient way of creating fuel. And it looked it was going to have to heavily subsidize sort of it forever. And that it didn't really make sense." But after 9-11 it became a defense issue and it made sense.

Those subsidies include a tax credit for blending the predominately corn-based fuel with gasoline. Known as the "blender's-credit", which is currently 45-cents for each gallon of ethanol mixed with conventional fuel, has come under fire since it was first adopted. Just when it looked like the industry boosting tax credit would be allowed to expire at the end of last year, it was given a one-year extension when President Obama signed the omnibus tax credit bill.

Bob Dinneen is the President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol promotion group, was at the Iowa summit.

Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association: "Given the amount of artillery that was coming in to the ethanol industry, over the course of summer and fall, I think we dodged more than just a bullet, because quite frankly, people were throwing everything they can at the ethanol industry, these days, the food companies don't like the fact we're increasing the price of grain, the oil companies don't like the fact that we're taking more and more of a barrel of oil away from them, there's lots of folks who like the status quo, that would just as soon have the ethanol industry go away."

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, another ethanol promotion agency, also was in attendance. Buis sees great days ahead for the renewable fuel.

Tom Buis, Growth Energy: "Its exciting to see all the people involved in renewable energy, and all the benefits that really come to the consumer, here in Iowa, and nationally. ... We're certainly advocating to help this nation even more with the renewable energy that we produce today, ethanol is about 10 percent of the fuel market, we can be more, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, creates jobs, jobs right here in America that can't be outsourced and improves the environment."

Iowa only trails Brazil and the rest of the United States in the production of ethanol. While ethanol normally receives most of the biofuels press, biodiesel's future was included in the summit's agenda. Monte Shaw, Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, recounted some of biodiesel's recent struggles.

Monte Shaw, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association: "The completely irresponsible lapse of the federal biodiesel blenders tax credit led to a massive contraction in the biodiesel industry. In Iowa, every biodiesel refinery reduced production and many simply shut down and didn't produce a drop. Hundreds of Iowans lost their jobs."filling-tanker-w--biodiesel

One of the promotional coups for the industry was getting the members of the Indy Racing league, or IRL, to run their multi-million dollar engines on ethanol. NASCAR will join the IRL in using the renewable fuel starting with the 2011 running of the Daytona 500.

Rusty Wallace, RW Racing: "This particular fuel is really right for what we do. This is something we're really proud of to talk about..."

Racing legend Rusty Wallace, who is a team owner and has an interest in several race tracks around the country, was the keynote speaker. He told the audience that his racing team has used E-30 in his team's race cars and received a performance boost without any harmful effects to the expensive engines. Wallace, whose enthusiasm for ethanol is only outdone by his enthusiasm for racing, contends critics of the biofuel are only telling part of the story.

Rusty Wallace, RW Racing: "If they think there's anything bad, the good far outweighs the bad. It's going to run great in your car. There is no negativity about what's being put in your car. I've heard, 'Oh, it makes water and screws up the car in corrosion, that's a bunch of baloney...It kills my fuel mileage terrible, that's a bunch of baloney, the people are just unfortunately are just so undereducated and some of the information they got is just flat wrong. It is so wrong it just makes me mad as a hornet, it really does, because I know the good things about it."

For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.


Tags: agriculture biofuels campaign 2012 ethanol farmers news renewable fuels Republicans Rick Santorum