Ethanol: Time to ‘think big picture’

Source: By Indiana Herald Bulletin • Posted: Sunday, April 4, 2021

ANDERSON — Legislation that opponents say would limit consumers’ access to a promising blend of ethanol fuel is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 303 has passed through both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill passed the Indiana House in a 71-23 vote last week. Earlier, it cruised through the Senate by a vote of 46-2.

Among other things, the proposal would mandate the placement of a warning label approved by the Environmental Protection Agency on fuel pumps dispensing a blend of up to 15% ethanol in gasoline.

Despite lawmakers’ support of the bill, its opponents — including officials at POET Biorefining in Alexandria — argue that a federally mandated label is already attached to the 79 E15 pumps in Indiana. Adding another warning, they say, would confuse consumers and discourage sales of E15.

POET officials referred questions about the bill to the Indiana Ethanol Producers Association.

“Any state or local label on E15 is expressly pre-empted by federal law, in the EPA and under the (Federal Trade Commission),” said Tim Phelps, a spokesman for the ethanol producers group.

“It’s completely redundant and unnecessary for Indiana to confuse consumers, and it could lead to them deciding not to use this fuel that’s legal and very safe for their vehicle. The implications of that are significant.”

Phelps said that a drag on E15 sales would hurt several groups, including the state’s corn farmers, who would realize an additional $170 million in income from having as many as 48 million more bushels of their product converted to ethanol. He added that thousands of rural jobs and additional fuel savings for consumers would be jeopardized, as well.

“E15 represents an enormous opportunity for Indiana if we can capture it,” Phelps said. “It seems like there are some who are really trying to sabotage E15 sales by confusing consumers.”

Five of the six members of Madison County’s delegation in the Statehouse voted in favor of the bill, with State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, calling it “consumer friendly.” Lanane said the disagreement over the language on the warning label wasn’t enough to dissuade him from approving.

“If there’s some way to double down and get people to really pay attention to that, I don’t think there’s harm to that,” Lanane said. “A knowledgeable consumer is a powerful consumer. Even if it enhances the opportunity for someone to see that on the pump, I still think it’s a good idea.”

The bill’s supporters point out that a variety of groups began meeting late last summer to discuss the legislation and find common ground in the bill’s contents. Included in the discussions were representatives of the Indiana Fuel Retailers Association, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Farm Bureau.

Additionally, according to some advocates, getting more E15 out into the market will better position the industry to compete against the burgeoning movement toward hybrid and electric vehicles in the years ahead.

“We’ve got to look past this moment in time,” said Jeff Cummins, associate director for policy engagement with the Indiana Farm Bureau.

“It’s liquid fuel versus electric vehicles. It’s us against them. In the ag family, we’ve got to find a way to build a bridge to one another. We have to think big picture and longer term.”