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Ethanol Crusader Bob Dinneen's Work Will Continue 

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) announced this week that its CEO, Bob Dinneen, will step down from that job next October after leading the group since 2001 and working for RFA for more than three decades.

That hardly means Dinneen is retiring. Instead, as the group’s senior strategic advisor, he’ll spend more time on Capitol Hill and working with federal agencies to promote expanded use of ethanol.

One of his top priorities, Dinneen told Agriculture.com Thursday, is getting year-round sales of E15 and other higher blends of ethanol approved by the EPA.

“With Scott Pruitt no longer at the agency, I have new optimism that it’s going to get done,” Dinneen said.

Pruitt, who stepped down as EPA Administrator amid scandals over his alleged misuse of federal dollars, had suggested that the oil industry needed some form of compensation for allowing sales of more ethanol in the form of E15. Dinneen argues that the industry has already benefitted from Pruitt allowing refiners to get hardship waivers from blending ethanol. That action cut domestic demand for ethanol by more than 2 billion gallons. Influential senators, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have questioned the legality of Pruitt’s use of a loophole intended only for small refiners.

“We absolutely need to have some mitigation from that,” Dinneen said.

Higher Fuel Efficiency

Dinneen is also optimistic that higher blends of ethanol, including E20 and E30, will be needed as auto manufacturers move toward selling more efficient high-compression engines. That new generation of internal combustion engines will be needed to meet higher fuel efficiency standards for the industry. They require gasoline with high levels of octane, which ethanol provides at a lower cost than other sources.

Even though demand for electric vehicles is growing, Dinneen doesn’t see it stopping increasing demand for liquid fuels and gasoline-powered cars. Between 2016 and 2017, electric vehicle sales rose by about 16% in the U.S. but if sales continue at that rate, electric-powered cars would still be less than 10% of the market by 2030, he says.

“I just don’t see electric vehicles as quite the threat that some do,” Dinneen said.

Dinneen has helped RFA overcome even greater challenges in the past.

According to RFA’s announcement of his changing role at RFA, “During his tenure, Dinneen led the industry and achieved a number of landmark legislative and regulatory victories for ethanol, including passage of the original Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2005 and significant expansion and extension of the RFS program in 2007. Dinneen also played a crucial role in the creation of the reformulated gasoline and oxygenated fuels requirements; securing the RVP waiver for E10; working with states to adopt bans on MTBE; and multiple extensions of the ethanol blender’s tax credit and secondary tariff on imported ethanol, among other important victories.”

Dramatic Expansion

The ethanol industry has grown dramatically during Dinneen’s career.

“When I started we were producing 600 million gallons a year and this year we’re producing 16 billion gallons,” he said.

Ethanol has gone from an exotic fuel additive sold in a handful of states 30 years ago to being sold in every U.S. state and exported to 65 countries.

Dinneen takes the most pride in how the ethanol industry has brought economic growth and good jobs to small towns in rural America.

“What’s meaningful for me is how the industry has helped revitalize rural communities,” he said.

Yet, Dinneen hasn’t profited personally from that growth. Early in his career he made a decision not to invest in any ethanol plant.

“I just didn’t want to be conflicted by having ownership in any particular ethanol plant,” he  said. It wasn’t a requirement of his job, but he felt it made him more effective. He admits that at times he has second thoughts, especially when the Great Recession hit and he saw his own stock portfolio shrink just as the ethanol industry was booming.

He is also proud of the role that RFA has taken on by providing trusted technical and analytical reports on ethanol. The RFA website even has a calculator that allows consumers to plug in the prices of different ethanol blends to see which is most cost effective.

“We talk about consumer savings and that’s a way to demonstrate it,” he says.

“I don’t believe you can win debates on emotion and volume alone,” he says. “Put me in the camp of ‘facts matter.’”

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