As politicians, government agencies and industry advocates continue to debate the strength of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) that will be in place for 2017, the transportation sector just overtook power plants as America’s biggest climate problem.

A chart produced by Sam Ori at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago tells the story, taking into account data released in the Department of Energy’s May Monthly Energy Review.Transportation Graph

This is the first time since 1979 that America’s cars, trucks, motorcycles and airplanes have overtaken power plants as the biggest emitters of CO2. You can read a more detailed summary of the trends that led to this new development at Vox.

Why it matters to the U.S. ethanol industry

With gas prices reaching their lowest level since 2005, people are driving much more. In fact, AAA estimated that Americans took more trips than ever this Fourth of July weekend—an increase of 1.2% over last year. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been dragging its feet in setting the final RVO volumes to 15 billion gallons as Congress intended.

In short: Transportation has become the country’s biggest pollution problem, and it’s going to get worse. While that’s not good news for anyone, it does bolster the case for higher ethanol blends and the further deployment of bioenergy options, as described in the “Bioenergy and Sustainability” report released this past April.

Power plants have been steadily reducing their environmental impact by moving away from energy sources like coal and moving towards cleaner sources like natural gas.  Ethanol—currently blended at 10% of the gasoline supply—is ready to answer this environmental challenge. In fact, E15 (a 15% ethanol/gasoline blend) is already in use in certain parts of the country, providing benefits to the environment and consumer’s wallets. With ethanol, we have an optimal solution in place—and it’s time we fully embraced it.

Connecting with consumers on sustainability

The narrative is becoming more compelling by the day. But like Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in her recent International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo keynote speech, ethanol industry professionals need to become the marketers that are telling the story.

”We have a great story to tell,” she said, adding that the industry needs to move from simply responding to PR attacks to being proactive and personally connecting with consumers. “We just have to understand what motivates our customers and how to speak to them.”

On a similar note, in a panel discussion shortly after Skor’s speech, American Coalition for Ethanol Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said there shouldn’t be a stigma about speaking out on ethanol’s environmental benefits.

“Don’t be afraid to call yourself an environmentalist,” Jennings said.

That’s not necessarily a message those in the fuel industry may be used to hearing. And yet, sustainability is one of the biggest benefits ethanol brings to the table. If that’s information that resonates with consumers, why wouldn’t we want to shout it as loud as we can?

The fact is, we already know what’s important to our customers, and we’re already talking to them. Now, we just have to get them as excited about ethanol as we are. We all have an important role to play.

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Jack Rogers

I am responsible for the global marketing of our enzyme products and associated services used in ethanol production.I’ve spent the last 9 years working to grow the market for ethanol globally, and bring products to market that increase production efficiency and improve the bottom line for producers.