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LAS VEGAS — The future of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and E15, a fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, were heavily debated during the first day of the National Ethanol Conference.
In fact, during a session entitled "Washington Legislative Roundup," both topics were so hotly contested that moderator Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) -- host of the conference -- finally settled the matter by saying "we will agree to disagree" on both topics.
The RFS is a mandate put forth by the Obama Administration to increase vehicles' average mileage per gallon beginning in 2015. Supporters of the mandate, including the RFA, have often said ethanol blends are required to achieve higher gas mileage in the future.
However, during the panel discussion, two opponents of the RFS -- the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute -- were called upon to express their points of view.
"Ethanol drives up food costs," remarked Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "We are not blaming RFS as the only factor for rising food costs, though."
Martin Durbin, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, added that his trade association is not opposed to renewable fuels, but believes the RFS does not work.
"You’ve made it us against the world," Durbin said in a comment pointed at the RFA. "Anything we say about the RFS is heresy. That makes it more difficult."
Panelists could only agree on one thing during the session: It is highly unlikely the 113th Congress will repeal the RFS anytime in the near future due to politicans' inability to get much of anything passed recently.
E15 TAKES CENTER STAGE
As for E15, Finkel stressed that the Grocery Manufacturers Association was not pleased with the recent decision by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which denied petitions to rehear a case that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) permitted commercial use of E15.
Although the trade group lost the case, Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. EP, Finkel said it was considering future legal action regarding the alternative fuel.
On the other side of the ledger, Scott Zaremba, president of Kansas-based convenience store chain Zarco 66, said in a separate session entitled "The Reality of Distributing and Dispensing 36 Billion Gallons of Renewable Fuels," that he would continue to sell E15 at all eight of his stores, despite concerns from the aforementioned trade associations, as well as AAA.
AAA recently reported results of a survey that revealed 90 percent of consumers are unaware of E15 and do not know that the fuel alternative can only be used in model year 2001 or later vehicles.
"We’re moving forward with it and we are excited about it," said Zaremba, who was the first U.S. retailer to offer E15 at the pump in July. "Education is the No. 1 item we need to work on. We are working on it everyday." Zaremba concluded that he's a "a firm believer in E15" and "we need to do something about transportation. E15 and higher blends will be advantageous to all retailers in the future."