State legislators can't overturn a federal law, but they can inflame executives who want to produce ethanol in Florida.
HB 4001, passed by the House and Senate in April, repeals the Florida Renewable Fuel Standard Act, which required all gasoline sold after 2010 include ethanol or alternative fuel.
Bio-energy companies want Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure, but based upon the ease with which the bill moved through the Legislature and supporting emails sent to the governor's office, alternative fuel crop growers have a tough row to hoe.
"This bill, HB 4001, is reprehensible and ill conceived," said Bradley Krohn, president of United States EnviroFuels. "The bill panders to petroleum companies that are trying to repeal the federal renewable fuel standard, because big oil does not want to give up market share to ethanol. That's it.
"The bill sends a hugely negative signal to investors not to build advanced biofuels here in Florida," Krohn said. "There is no justification for this legislation."
He is attempting to build an ethanol production plant in Highlands County. "I will not give a date or timeline on breaking ground because every time I have done so in the past, we have never met that timeline. However, we are definitely moving forward. We have just recently brought in a new round of investment in the project, and we are moving to the final phase of detailed process design engineering. This will get us to a detailed cost estimate and an EPC contract with our builder."
"I own an antique car, and it has screwed up my fuel system," G.R. Dornfeld of The Villages wrote to the governor. "The Ethanol attracts water, and when my car sits for long periods, rust occurs. Also, the substance deteriorates all the rubber parts in the fuel system. I have had to replace the fuel tank, steel tube to deliver fuel forward from the tank, the fuel pump and carburetor on my 1939 Ford."
Moreover, Linda Skidmore of Holiday emailed to Scott, "The production of ethanol costs more than the production of gasoline, takes huge amounts of corn out of the food system - thus raising the cost of food - and causes severe damage to internal combustion engines."
Her request for Scott to sign the bill was among more than 1,000 this month favoring repeal. He has until June 4 to decide. Regardless, David Mica, executive director of Florida Petroleum Council, said the legislation may be mostly symbolic because of federal law mandates gasoline will be mixed with ethanol or other biofuels.
In Brazil, Krohn countered, where ethanol is made from sugar cane, all gasoline contains 25 percent ethanol, and conventional automobiles have no engine problems.
Older boats and small engines have undeniable problems with ethanol, which melts plastic parts and clogs engines.
But, Krohn added, "There could be a creative way to implement a state program that requires unblended gasoline to be widely available to boaters and marine use, while allowing blenders to have an ethanol credit and trade system to allow them to meet their 10 percent blending requirements. But unfortunately, nobody in our state congress wants to take on studying and crafting such a program - it's easier to just kill a state requirement that took Florida in the direction of job creation and clean energy diversity."
Brazil has mandated ethanol use since the 1970s, he said, and all gasoline stations also sell 100 percent ethanol as well.
"Brazil gets it and apparently," Krohn said, "Florida does not."
Scott joined several other governors in October in asking the EPA to suspend the requirement for putting a certain amount of ethanol into America's gas tanks, saying it was causing a shortage of cattle feed for Florida ranchers.
The other side of that story, Krohn has said in the past, is that in 2015, the RFS will cap corn ethanol production at 15 billion gallons. However, by 2022, 36 billion gallons of ethanol must be produced, and Krohn sees that as a huge opportunity for Florida's subtropical climates, which can produce ethanol from switchgrass, sweet sorghum, energy cane and other crops nearly year around. Dozens of refiners have been proposed in Gibsonton, Clewiston, LaBelle, Miami, Mossy Head, Hosford, Auburndale and Panama City.
Congress has required the EPA to apply greenhouse gas standards to ensure that each category of renewable fuel emits fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel it replaces.
Switzerland-based INEOS Bio received a $50 million U.S. Department of Energy grant in 2009 to build the nation's first commercial bio-refining facility. The grant was considered part of a move to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create new clean technology jobs. The Vero Beach plant uses yard and vegetative waste to produce bioethanol; it is eventually expected to power 1,400 homes.
During debate on the proposed repeal, House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, called the law a "flawed business model" for government to require people to buy products. "Do we believe in free markets or not?" Gaetz asked.
Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, argued to keep the law in place, saying the repeal "does nothing but hurt the businesses that are here in Florida, and it hurts an industry that we are wanting to move to the state of Florida."
"The statements made by the bill sponsors are grossly misleading and provide much misinformation and myths on ethanol," Krohn said. "Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, cleaner burning, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 50 percent, is a cheap source of high octane, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, reduces our national trade deficit, and provides nearly 80,000 jobs in the U.S while indirectly supporting an additional 295,000."
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story