Sometimes the most innocuous legislative bills cause the most uproar. That happened in Indiana’s 2021 legislative session with Senate Bill 303, introduced by Sen. Mark Messmer of Jasper.
Indiana statutes still talk about gasohol — some of you may not be old enough to remember that term. The statutes don’t address certain specifics about ethanol that need to be clarified before some companies feel it’s OK to offer E-15 year-round.
The only technical part of the bill addressed Reid vapor pressure levels, specifying that levels more suitable to summer conditions for E-15 could be used. The legal change in allowable pressure levels was what some companies were looking for before moving more heavily into E-15.
“Indiana Farm Bureau supported the bill because our members have been vocal in supporting biofuels from the beginning,” says Jeff Cummins, associate director for policy engagement for Indiana Farm Bureau. “It was time to update out-of-date language and bring technical requirements in line.”
So, what made the bill controversial? The final version included a statement that would have been required on gasoline dispensers if ethanol was in the blend. It would have reminded consumers to check their operator’s manuals before using fuel containing ethanol.
“It was going to be in fairly small print, and we didn’t see it as a problem,” explains Randy Kron, Evansville, Ind., a farmer and president of INFB. However, some folks didn’t see it that way.
The bill passed both houses, but opponents mounted an intense radio campaign urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto the bill, claiming the legislation would hurt ethanol sales. The issue got so heated that Kron responded to clarify allegations that INFB didn’t support ethanol.
“Let me set the record straight,” Kron said. “Farm Bureau has supported and promoted the expanded usage of ethanol as an important source of renewable energy from the very beginning, and we are continuing to do so today. Our member-driven policy position clearly supports ethanol.
“We chose to support Senate Bill 303 because it provides clarity and transparency to Indiana’s laws regulating liquid fuels. Giving refiners and retailers more certainty will allow them to bring more ethanol to the market, and that will have a positive impact on Indiana corn farmers. Like most legislation, it is not perfect, but we firmly believe the overall impact of the bill will be positive for ethanol.”
Where issue stands
Holcomb chose to veto the bill, citing redundancy in adding another caution label when dispensers are already required to carry federal caution labels. His veto statement, however, urged parties to address the parts of the law that need updating.
The Indiana Legislature chose not to bring the bill up for a possible override. So as of today, existing statutes are still in place.
However, Cummins says it could be possible to adjust the vapor pressure requirements, a stumbling block for some, without legislation. If that effort fails, then legislation addressing it could resurface in 2022.
Like INFB, Indiana Prairie Farmer supports maximum use of biofuels because they’re a huge driver in creating more demand for corn and soybeans. The fate of Senate Bill 303 shows once again that well-meaning legislation can fall victim to political wrangling. We should all strive to avoid similar outcomes in the future.
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