LET'S CLEAR THE AIR
Why Nebraska’s Governor is a Champion of Biofuels
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts recently declared May as Renewable Fuels Month to draw attention to clean burning biofuel options. He’s focused on grassroot efforts to educate and expand access of mid-level blends for his citizens. Urban Air believes states and grassroots efforts can help pave the way and open the market to mid-level blends.
Urban Air asked Governor Ricketts a series of questions about how others can follow Nebraska’s lead and push higher ethanol blends locally. Below are some of his answers.
Q: You have been a terrific champion of ethanol in your first term and the industry appreciates all you have done. That said, we are all frustrated with the regulatory barriers at EPA and the battles in Washington. What can states do to take more of a leadership role to advance higher ethanol blends?
A: Grassroots organizations, governors, federal representatives, and other advocates should continue to advocate for the importance of biofuels on our economy to President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt. Biofuels not only benefit agricultural states, but our nation’s economy as well. Thousands of skilled employees work in the biofuels sector at not only production facilities, but also for a diverse group of companies that provide allied industry goods and services ranging from manufacturing to technology, transportation, and agriculture.
The economic impact of the biofuel sector is impressive and is an important component of our economy that also helps build better air quality. Every time you fill up with ethanol, you’re helping keep the environment clean. More needs to be done to get the word out on the environmental benefits, and by educating the public we can create more market demand for our quality fuels.
Governors can also lead by example. In Nebraska, we require all vehicles purchased by the state to be flex fuel vehicles or E15 compatible. We have also converted state fuel dispensers from E10 to E15 in many locations, so our fleet runs on E15 or E85 whenever possible. And we have a request in front of the EPA right now to allow the State of Nebraska to conduct a pilot project with our state vehicle fleet and higher ethanol blends.
Nebraska continues to support fuel infrastructure at the retail level to increase ethanol fueling sites and support higher ethanol blends. I‘ve offered to talk with fuel terminal operators to encourage 15 percent ethanol blending – a customer preference – to make it easier to access the E15 product at the terminal. We also evaluate proactive steps taken by other states, including incentives or standards that encourage biofuel use. A trend toward increased integration of biofuels in the fuel we use in the state is one that will continue to generate cost savings for consumers and state government.
Q: You have had a lot of personal interaction with EPA Administrator Pruitt, who seems to be supportive of ethanol but has not acted on the RVP waiver while allowing exemptions to the RFS to refiners. Do you think this Administration and this EPA is going to help us?
A: I applauded Pruitt’s timely release of the Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) for this year, but also emphasized the importance of maintaining the goals set by Congress in the 2007 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) schedule. It is clear the EPA needs to do more, and I have expressed our concerns about the biofuel waivers they have granted to refiners.
Scott Pruitt is accessible and responsive to my inquiries. During our conversations in Washington DC and at the Nebraska Capitol, I have made clear the need for RVP relief for E15 and higher ethanol blends. I have also noted the need for revisions in EPA’s fuel modeling, and RIN price issues can be resolved by introducing more ethanol in the domestic market.
Q: Several governors are working with the Administration to resolve issues that continue to impede a more robust domestic biofuels market. Do you have an update on the request you made to EPA on behalf of the Governors Biofuels Coalition to allow states to demonstrate E30 blends?
For about a month, the EPA has been reviewing a request to approve a pilot project using higher ethanol blends in state vehicles. In mid-April, the state convened a call with EPA staff to discuss what additional information was required to get approval for the proposed project. We are compiling information including fueling sites, project design details, types of vehicles in the proposed fleet and other information. I expect to file an updated application by the end of May.
This project is a multi-state collaboration that will allow us to gain data relevant to the use of higher ethanol blends. Nebraska is taking the lead on this project but we are closely coordinating this activity with several other key states in the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, including Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota. We consider the Nebraska pilot project to be a template that other states could use to gain approval for similar fuel testing.
Q: What are some of the challenges and obstacles you have encountered getting people in Nebraska to support ethanol and higher blends?
A: Biofuels face infrastructure challenges in terms of geographic dispersion and cost. Fuel marketers continue to raise concerns about the seasonality of higher blends and want assurance that RVP will not impede marketing efforts. In many cases, ethanol producers work directly with marketers to reduce the cost of transporting ethanol to retail locations. Fuel blending programs outside terminals are getting traction via flex fuel systems and innovative marketing practices adopted by a few wholesalers who have retail locations. Favorable ethanol fuel pricing is a key factor in consumer acceptance.
Q: What kind of support have you received from the ethanol industry that has made a difference?
A: It was all hands on deck when Nebraska received USDA Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) grants. The funds were distributed through Access Ethanol Nebraska (AEN), and included public-private partners raising matching funds and seeking out retail locations. Ethanol companies continue to provide support for marketing promotions, fueling infrastructure, and advertising. The Nebraska Ethanol Board, Nebraska Corn Board, and biofuel advocates help fund many of these activities.
I declared May as Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska, which draws attention to biofuel options through retail promotions and media engagement. Various retail locations will be participating in activities throughout the month, including Bosselman Travel Center in Grand Island – the largest biofuel plaza in Nebraska offering biodiesel and ethanol blends thanks to flex fuel pump upgrades. All of these activities are possible thanks to private-public collaboration between fuel marketers, ethanol producers, and biofuel advocates.
Q: How can ethanol supporters get more involved at the state level to support initiatives like using higher blends?
A: Funding infrastructure development is one important partnership between state government, ethanol producers and advocacy organizations. As new fuel choices are offered at more retail locations, consumers become better acquainted with these options and the lower prices. Benefits like higher octane, fewer toxic emissions, and lower cost have a positive influence on consumer acceptance. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for ethanol and other biofuels. Again, leading by example is a role we can play in state government. The engagement of ethanol supporters in fuel promotions, public policy, and advocacy are important to the goal of increasing the production and use of biofuels in Nebraska and nationally.
Q: Do you feel like the health benefits of a cleaner fuel like ethanol have been lost in the policy debates, and what can we do to remind people that ethanol blends reduce harmful emissions and save lives?
A: We need to do more around educating the public. Certainly, the air quality and health benefits of cleaner-burning fuels are important. We stress these benefits in promotion and advertising here in the state. For example, the Clean Fuels Omaha program focuses on ground-level ozone awareness to reduce smog in our largest city.
The Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Ethanol Board are both involved in education and awareness programs that are very effective. As the state continues to grow, good air quality is critical to economic development and reducing red tape. Biofuel advocates, transportation planners, and health professionals should continue to emphasize the role biofuels play in mitigating transportation-related pollution.
Q: After serving as Governor, will we see you in Washington?
A: I am focused on running for reelection for Nebraska Governor.