About Cindy Zimmerman

Cindy has been reporting about agricultural topics since 1980 when she graduated with a degree in broadcasting from the University of Florida. She is an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters and 1991 Oscar in Agriculture winner. She and her husband Chuck started ZimmComm New Media in 2003. They have three beautiful daughters and live near white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida.

Biodiesel Plants Closing Due to RFS Uncertainty

nbb-advancedThe National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately establish biodiesel volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard to avoid further damage to the industry.

In a telephone press conference Friday morning, NBB officials highlighted fallout from the ongoing failure of EPA to establish functioning renewable fuels policy for the second consecutive year and said the recent decision to allow streamlined imports of biodiesel from Argentina under the RFS has only added new urgency to the need for stable policy.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, a former biodiesel producer and NBB Governing Board Member Ben Wootton challenged recent comments suggesting that the RFS delays haven’t hurt renewable fuels industries. Wootton lost his Pennsylvania biodiesel plant, Keystone Biofuels, in bankruptcy last year as a result of RFS uncertainty. In his letter, he explained to McCarthy how the loss of his plant also forced him to lay off 30 employees and caused him to lose his daughters’ college funds and his retirement savings.

“I would invite Administrator McCarthy to come to my shuttered plant and talk to some of the laid off workers, or to visit practically any biodiesel plant across the country to see the damage that is taking place,” Wootton said. “It is obvious that this administration doesn’t understand the severe damage that the uncertainty surrounding this rule has caused our industry and the thousands of employees it represents. It is beyond frustrating that an Administration I have strongly supported has inflicted so much harm on an industry it says it supports.”

NBB CEO Joe Jobe says the EPA decision regarding imports of Argentinian biodiesel has just exacerbated the difficulties facing the industry. “It is shocking that at a time when our renewable fuels policy is in a shambles, the EPA has essentially greenlighted biodiesel imports from Argentina to qualify for the RFS, with very little oversight or verification that the resources used to make the fuel will be grown under the normal RFS sustainability requirements,” said Jobe. “We have done everything we can for two years to help this Administration develop reasonable policy that matches President Obama’s stated support for renewable fuels, but we are at wit’s end. We are desperately searching for any indication that this support actually exists.”

Listen to the press conference, which also includes comments from NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel, here: National Biodiesel press conference on RFS uncertainty

Southeastern Effort to Promote Alternative Fuels

se-fuelsThe Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition has joined sister Clean Cities organizations in the Southeast to promote the use of alternative fuels and vehicles. The joint effort includes U.S. Department of Energy designated Clean Cities coalitions in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“Drivers recognize that gas prices historically won’t stay at these lower prices for long,” said Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition. “We suggest fleets ‘bank’ their current fuel savings to invest in new advanced technology vehicles. We recognize alternative fuels have advantages that go beyond the price tag at any particular point in time.”

Bentley said alternative fuels offer fleets in the public and private sectors more stable and predictable costs, as well as lower vehicle maintenance costs. They also offer environmental advantages and economic benefits to local communities.

Bentley notes that the Southeast is a big growth market for alternative fuel vehicles. “For example, Atlanta ranks second only to San Francisco as a market for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Similarly, in 2013, Tennessee ranked ninth in the country for electric car registrations.” He adds that they expect the trend to continue in the region.

Ethanol Report on 20th Ethanol Conference

rfa-nec-15The Renewable Fuels Association’s 20th Annual National Ethanol Conference (NEC) with the theme of “Going Global” is just around the corner now, coming up February 18-20, 2015 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

The theme will hone in on how important export markets are to the future growth and financial health of the ethanol industry, particularly in light of the challenges being faced to fully implement the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and grow the domestic industry.

ethanol-report-adIn this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen talks about the upcoming 20th NEC and how the industry has changed in 20 years.

Ethanol Report on 20th Ethanol Conference

New Brand for Propane Autogas

propane-autogasThe Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has debuted its first-ever logo and brand identity made specifically for propane autogas: PROPANE AUTOGAS Clean American Energy™.

To solidify propane autogas as the official name of the popular alternative fuel, the propane industry commissioned PERC to develop a single symbol and identity. However, PERC also hoped to build a brand that advances propane as an increasingly abundant, American-made energy source.

“Last year we debuted a new propane logo to better showcase propane in many of the other industries where it’s used every day,” said PERC President and CEO Roy Willis. “The propane autogas mark is an extension of that same brand, but serves an important role in the on-road industry: It brings consistency in what our industry, manufacturing partners, and customers call this popular alternative fuel at a time when sales are rapidly growing and when alternative fuels are becoming more widely adopted.”

Fleets that operate propane autogas vehicles can now place the logo on vehicles, dispensers, tanks, and marketing materials to help showcase the fact that they’ve chosen a clean, American-made fuel.

Iowa RFA “Ready to Roll” in 2015

Iowa’s renewable fuels industry is “ready to roll” in 2015 if Tuesday’s 9th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit is any indication.

iarfa-15-nixonSpeakers at the summit included Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who represented the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition, former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, and General Wesley Clark (Ret.), Chairman of Growth Energy.

iarfa-15-santorumAlso speaking was former Pennsylvania Senator and potential presidential candidate Rick Santorum who appeared over the weekend at the Iowa Freedom Summit. Santorum’s most tweeted quote from the summit was that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is “Pro competition, pro environment & pro American jobs.”

Addressing the state of the industry, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw was very optimistic. “Today, I can say with absolute confidence that Iowa’s renewable fuels industry is ready to roll!,” said Shaw. “We’ve never been in a better position for the availability and diversity of feedstocks; the industry is coming off a profitable year; new markets are being developed; and new technologies are out of the lab and producing on a commercial scale. There is simply no question that this industry is ready to roll. The question is whether the President and Congress are going to allow the renewable fuels industry to “hit it,” or leave us stuck in neutral.”

The IRFA also released a study conducted by ABF Economics economist John Urbanchuk that found 2014 was a record-breaking year for the renewable fuels industry despite significant challenges. “Ethanol and biodiesel producers are part of a manufacturing sector that adds substantial value to agricultural commodities produced in Iowa,” said Urbanchuk. “The first and second-generation feedstocks used to produce renewable fuels are produced primarily by Iowa farmers, and the R&D expenditures for renewable fuels provide important support for Iowa’s universities. Combined, these activities make a significant contribution to the Iowa economy.”

The study found that the renewable fuels industry in Iowa accounts for more than $4.9 billion, or about 3.5 percent, of Iowa GDP, generates $2.5 billion of income for Iowa households; and supports more than 46,700 jobs throughout the economy.

Former USTR to Keynote Ethanol Conference

kirkFormer U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming National Ethanol Conference (NEC) in Grapevine, Texas.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen says it’s appropriate for Ambassador Kirk to speak at the conference with the theme of Going Global. “As we look to new horizons and expand into new markets, Mr. Kirk gives us a peek behind the curtain of world markets and trade relations,” said Dinneen. “His valuable insight will help shine a spotlight on new opportunities for American-made biofuels and co-products all across the globe.”

rfa-nec-15Ambassador Kirk was appointed by President Barack Obama as the United States Trade Representative and served from 2009 to 2013. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Kirk has close ties to the state as he gained his undergraduate and law degrees at Austin College and the University of Texas School of Law respectively. He joined Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s staff before rising to the position of Texas Secretary of State and eventually becoming the Mayor of Dallas.

The 20th annual NEC will take place Feb. 18–20 and Kirk is scheduled to speak at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19. Also at the conference, RFA’s General Counsel Ed Hubbard will moderate a panel titled “Going Global: Building Ethanol Demand Internationally.” The panel will feature Eco-Energy’s Pedro Paranhos, Lakeview Energy’s Jim Galvin, Henrique Pacini of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Mike Dwyer, and ePURE’s Robert Wright.

Registration and other information about the National Ethanol Conference can be found here.

RFS a No-Show at Freedom Summit

freedom-summitJust days after Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad kicked off a campaign to promote the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a “candidate” in the 2016 presidential race, it was basically a no-show at the conservative Freedom Summit featuring many presidential hopefuls.

Asked about the RFS in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue his opposition to the law as “a matter of principle.”

One of the potential candidates who received some positive reviews at the summit was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was recently criticized by biofuels producers in his state for not joining the ranks of other Midwestern governors in support of the RFS. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, Walker says “he’s keeping a campaign pledge to not take a position in the debate that has pitted ethanol producers against Wisconsin’s small-engine industry, which opposes increased use of the fuel additive.”

Also attending the summit was former Texas governor Rick Perry, a long time opponent of the RFS who advocated a waiver of the law when he was governor.

Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush both skipped out on the summit which was organized by Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King. Speaking to members of the media on Saturday, Gov. Branstad said Iowa is still an important state for a presidential candidate. “This is one of the battleground states that’s going to, I think, determine who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” said Branstad. “I don’t think it’s wise to skip Iowa.” The governor also advised, “I think it would be a disadvantage in Iowa to not support the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Branstad said.

One friend of biofuels who can be counted among the potential candidates who attended the Freedom Summit is Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania and candidate in the 2012 Republican primary. Santorum will be making a few other appearances in Iowa this week, including at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association conference on Tuesday. He spoke at that same event in 2011.

First E15 Station Opens in South Florida

caraf-oilCaraf Oil in North Miami this week became the first retail fuel station in South Florida to offer 15% ethanol blended gasoline.

“We wanted to be the first in South Florida to offer E15 since we have had success with customers with E85,” said Edwin Flores, owner of Caraf Oil, who says they actually offer E85 at two locations in North Miami. “For drivers, it’s seamless – you can use E15 or gas if you’re driving a 2001 or newer model.”

The grand opening celebration for the new E15 pump on Wednesday featured officials from both Caraf Oil and Florida-based ProtecFuel, which managed the pump installation, as well as local dignitaries and representatives from Southeast Florida Clean Cities.

“We are excited to help introduce American-made ethanol into the fuel pool through E15 in our home state and city,” said Todd Garner, CEO of Protec. “With its higher performance at 88-octane, and environmental benefits, it just makes sense.”

“Clean Cities is all about reducing our country’s dependence on foreign oil and we’re proud that our region is one of the first in Florida to offer E15,” said Christine Heshmati, Southeast Florida Clean Cities Coordinator.

Currently, E15 is available at more than 100 stations across the nation in 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Iowa Coalition to Promote RFS as Candidate

americas-futureIowa Governor Terry Branstad today announced a major new bi-partisan campaign called America’s Renewable Future that will promote the Renewable Fuel Standard in the 2016 Iowa Presidential caucuses.

“I’m very passionate about the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Governor Branstad during a conference call to announce the effort. “It’s made a real difference for farm income and good jobs, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, improving the environment – so I’m really excited to see this strong, bi-partisan effort being made to educate people that come to Iowa and presidential candidates.”

America’s Renewable Future will be co-chaired by former Iowa State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican, and former state Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, a Democrat, as well as Iowa renewable fuels industry leader Bill Couser.

Sweeney, who is a corn, soybean and cattle producer, says it’s important to educate lawmakers and the public about the RFS. “Once it’s explained, (they see) what a great thing renewable fuels are for this country,” she said.

Coordinating the effort will be Governor Branstad’s son Eric, a public affairs specialist and campaign operative. “We have partners coming in from all over the country and those partners have committed millions to fund this effort,” said Eric Branstad. “We are designing it to look like a presidential campaign and the RFS is our candidate.”

From now until the Iowa Caucuses, America’s Renewable Future “will wage a mulitimillion dollar, multi-platform effort” to educate presidential candidates about the benefits of the RFS and ask them to take a stand.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to be part of this grassroots organization and being able to bring these candidates to our farms and our feedlots,” said Couser, who is a livestock and crop producer and ethanol plant co-founder. “We’re very excited about meeting these candidates on a bi-partisan partnership, bringing them here and educating them.”

The group also intends to build a statewide campaign organization to educate Iowa caucus-goers in both parties about which candidates support the RFS. The campaign will include advertising, earned media, public opinion research, stakeholder engagement, digital and social media outreach.

Listen to the conference call announcing the effort here: America's Renewable Future campaign announced

President Touts Domestic Energy in SOTU

sotu15“We are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years,” said President Barack Obama in the first few minutes of his 2015 State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

“We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet,” said Obama. “And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump.”

President Obama also hit on climate change in his address, noting that “over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it.”

Responding to the president’s address, Novozymes Americas President Adam Monroe said they are excited to see President Obama focusing on climate change and said that the United States “has an opportunity to lead the world in reducing atmospheric carbon by investing in science.”

“The United States also has a chance to be the world leader in alternative fuels,” said Monroe. “The Renewable Fuel Standard has been successful in moving our cars and trucks away from fossil fuels. If President Obama wants to reduce emissions today he should put this policy back on track and support cleaner, domestic biofuels.”

Retailers Expand E15 Availability

sheetzPennsylvania-based convenience store and gas station chain Sheetz has announced that 60 of its locations in North Carolina will offer 15% ethanol blended fuel (E15) by the spring of 2016.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says the company has over 400 locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina. “Sheetz is a well-known leader in the fuel retail business and their decision to offer E15 shows they are in tune with an ever changing marketplace where consumers are demanding higher performance, lower cost renewable fuels grown right here at home,” said Buis.

“This is great news for the nation’s corn farmers who have been promoting the benefits of ethanol blended fuel for more than 30 years,” said National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, a farmer from Maryland. “This is a fantastic development for the rural economy and consumers who want a real choice in fuel.”

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen notes
that the announcement comes on the heels of E15’s expansion into 15 states. “It’s invigorating to see a major North Carolina retailer like Sheetz actively decide to do what is best for their consumers by giving drivers access to additional fuel options,” said Dinneen. “Sheetz clearly sees the benefits of E15 and it is my hope that all other retailers in North Carolina will follow Sheetz’s exemplary example.”

Also, Miami-based CR Caraf Oil is opening the first E15 pump in South Florida this week, working in partnership with Protec Fuel.

Keystone Amendment Targets Corn Ethanol

An amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill would eliminate corn ethanol from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a move that ethanol industry groups say would set U.S. energy policy back by decades.

The amendment was offered
by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on the premise that corn ethanol “drives up the cost of everything from gasoline to groceries.”

mess-rfs“The fact of the matter is that corn is less expensive today than when the RFS was passed in 2007,” said Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “There is simply no truth to the notion that ethanol has driven up the price of food. In fact, the UN concluded that food prices are driven more by the price of energy than the cost of commodities. To that point, ethanol has been less expensive than gas for the better part of the past four years and has helped reduce consumer pain at the pump.”

“This amendment is an unnecessary solution to an imaginary problem,” Dinneen added. “If approved, it would set our nation’s energy, economic, and climate agenda back decades.”

“This amendment would eviscerate the RFS – the most successful energy policy enacted in the last 40 years,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said. “If this amendment was adopted, it would embrace the status quo of our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil, concede we no longer are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and seek to pursue a policy that would result in massive upheaval and job loss in today’s booming rural economy.”

The amendment was introduced in the Senate on Friday.

Ethanol Producers Meet RFS without Final Rule

RFANewlogoThe latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that ethanol producers met the 2014 statutory requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) without a final rule, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen says RIN generation data just released by the EPA show that 2014 volume obligations expected by Congress could have easily been met, and that there was no reason for the RFS waiver proposed – and later rescinded – by EPA.

According to EPA, 14.34 billion “renewable fuel” RINs were generated in 2014, almost perfectly in line with the statutory requirement of 14.40 billion. When combined with surplus RINs carried over from previous years, total renewable fuel RIN stocks are estimated to be well over 16 billion. While some small portion of the 2014 RINs generated will be retired for exported volumes, the data clearly show that compliance with statutory volumes could have easily been achieved.

“Had the Agency just implemented the statute as written, there would have been no drama,” commented Dinneen. “As EPA and the White House finalize the 2014 rule and turn their attention to 2015 and 2016, this data sends a strong message that the U.S. ethanol industry is up to the task. We can and will deliver the volumes established in the statute, provided that EPA enforces the law as written.”

In November 2013, EPA proposed to reduce the 2014 requirement for renewable fuel from the statutory level of 14.4 billion gallons to just 13.01 billion gallons. Today’s data show that RIN generation outpaced EPA’s initial proposed volume by more than 10 percent.

Today’s data also show that RIN generation for cellulosic biofuel — long labeled by oil companies as “phantom fuels” — was nearly double the volume proposed by EPA in November 2013. The Agency proposed a cellulosic biofuel requirement of 17 million gallons, yet RIN generation finished the year at nearly 33 million.

NEC Scholarship Award Winner Announced

rfa-nec-15The Renewable Fuels Association and Renewable Fuels Foundation are proud to announce the student scholarship award winner for the 20th annual National Ethanol Conference: Going Global next month in Grapevine, Texas.

This year’s scholarship winner is Laís Thomaz of Brazil, who received her master’s degree in international relations in 2012 from San Tiago Dantas, a graduate program supported by three of Brazil’s premier universities. Her dissertation, which focused on the role of advocacy groups in the shaping of ethanol trade policies, was published as a book by Brazil’s Editora UNESP. Her research previously won the Top Ethanol Award promoted by the Brazilian Sugarcane Ethanol Industry Association (UNICA). She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

The RFA/RFF scholarship provides students enrolled in higher education with complimentary registration at the conference, giving scholarship recipients the chance to connect with hundreds of leaders, policymakers, and experts associated with the renewable fuel industry. Only students who focus on renewable fuels in their studies and intend to pursue a career in the industry are eligible to receive the scholarship. This is the sixth consecutive year in which this scholarship has been made available to students.

Ag Secretary Stresses Biofuels Support at AFBF

afbf15-vilsack-stallmanReal farmers from around the country had a chance to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack questions during an informal town hall-style meeting at the American Farm Bureau convention this week in San Diego.

The last question he took was from a South Dakota farmer who asked about continuation of strong biofuels policy in the United States. Vilsack detailed his continued support for the industry, particularly in the area of exports. “I am a firm believer in the future of the biofuels industry,” he said. “Ethanol production is at record levels…we’re now beginning to see great interest in the export market, not just for ethanol but also for dried distillers grains.”

Beyond the Renewable Fuel Standard, Vilsack said USDA is working hard to encourage the Defense Department to use more biofuels. “They are scheduled this year to begin a process of buying hundreds of millions of gallons of biofuels for jets and ships,” he said.

The last point the secretary made was on the need to update the research on ethanol in particular, especially when it comes to indirect land use. “A lot of the push back to the industry is based on studies that took place 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and there have been enormous increases in productivity of American farmers, that basically suggest the indirect land use calculations are not as accurate as they need to be,” he said.

Listen to the secretary’s comments on biofuels here: Secretary Vilsack at AFBF on biofuels


2015 AFBF Convention photo album