Firm behind major anti-ethanol campaign goes to bat for biofuels

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012

The D.C. lobbying firm behind a large and expensive 2008 publicity campaign opposing the federal biofuels mandate has now been hired by ethanol groups to do the exact opposite: drum up support for the renewable fuel standard.

The Glover Park Group will work with the nation’s largest ethanol organizations and at least one ethanol company in a multimillion-dollar public relations and advertising campaign. The campaign comes as the renewable fuel standard has taken a beating over the past several months as corn supplies have withered during the drought.

“The Glover Park Group has been retained to help ensure that the job growth, environmental benefits and energy independence afforded by America’s Renewable Fuel Standard are not undermined,” the Renewable Fuels Association said in an emailed statement.

According to an ethanol industry insider, Glover Park has specifically proposed building up Democratic support for biofuels and working to dispel the image of ethanol that was largely perpetrated by the lobbying firm several years ago in a campaign for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and DuPont have hired the firm, the insider said. Advanced biofuels groups have not agreed to be a part of the effort.

Until at least two months ago, the Renewable Fuels Association had been publicly critical of Glover Park for its work with the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In a June blog post, RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen said that “wolves” were “at the door of the U.S. ethanol industry,” comparing current efforts to undermine the renewable fuel standard to the 2008 campaign.

At the time, Glover Park had been hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, an organization made up of large food companies, to “galvanize grassroots, media and policy voices into a unified campaign” to tear down support for ethanol, according to a Glover Park Group memo.

In its memo to the association, Glover Park promised to “obliterate whatever intellectual justification might still exist for corn-based ethanol among policy elites” and to “demonstrate to policy makers at the state and federal level that there is a political price to allowing ethanol policy to drive up the cost of food.” The firm requested a six-month, $300,000 retainer for the campaign.

Glover Park’s relationship with GMA was outed in a May 2008 Roll Call story that prompted severe backlash by the ethanol industry and its supporters.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the ethanol industry’s biggest congressional backers, gave a blistering floor speech — now famous in the biofuels industry — calling the work by Glover Park and GMA a “smear campaign” that tried to make biofuels a scapegoat.

He blamed the campaign on Democratic operatives working for Glover Park, including a former press secretary in the Clinton administration. Grassley followed up the speech with a letter to major food companies asking them to encourage GMA to end the campaign.

“This campaign against ethanol is more sophisticated than anything I have seen put on by Big Oil over the last 30 years,” Grassley said in his speech. “I suggest that Democrats in the Senate who claim to support our nation’s drive toward energy independence should be alarmed by this group’s planned campaign and the tactics being used.”

But the strategy now by Glover Park will be to build support for ethanol among Democrats and turn the issue into a partisan one, the ethanol industry insider said. Glover Park did not respond to requests for comment.

In response to the ethanol organizations’ contract with Glover Park, Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said, “Whoever works to dispel the myths surrounding clean, renewable biofuels will have the benefit of having the facts on their side.”

The ethanol industry has blamed the 2008 campaign for circulating the “food versus fuel” debate. In a 2011 post on Growth Energy’s website, which still links to the original Roll Call story, the ethanol group calls the debate “pure fiction” that was “spun by a wealthy industry group (the Grocery Manufacturers Association) through a well-connected DC public relations shop (the Glover Park Group).”

After the campaign, the Grocery Manufacturers Association would later go on to lead a lawsuit against U.S. EPA over its approval of an increased level of ethanol in gasoline. That case was dismissed last month by a federal court (Greenwire, Aug. 17).

While Glover Park is no longer working for GMA, the firm has also for several years represented some of the largest food companies in the nation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money and influence in politics

This past year, the Coca-Cola Co., Dean Foods Co. and Kellogg Co. have all retained Glover Park. Last month, Kellogg CEO John Bryant said he supported requests to EPA by several state governors to waive at least part of the renewable fuel standard, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

The requests were in response to the drought, which has decreased the corn supply and raised concerns by food producers that the corn going toward ethanol production is increasing the cost of livestock feed.

The ethanol industry has maintained that the cause of high corn prices is Mother Nature and high fuel costs — and not ethanol — and has criticized any attempts to open up or waive the standard.

The current attacks on ethanol have spurred the creation of the Biofuels Producers Coordinating Council, an organization made up of some of the biggest names in both the corn ethanol and advanced biofuels spheres (Greenwire, Aug. 3). The group also represents a pooling of resources by the biofuels industry to resist attempts to change the RFS but is not directly affiliated with the contract to hire Glover Park.