A Renewed Voice in the Debate Over Renewable Fuels


Sugarcane ethanol plays a modest but important role supplying the United States with clean renewable fuel. Last year, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol comprised only 3 percent of all renewable fuel consumed by Americans, but provided nearly one-quarter of the U.S. supply of advanced biofuels. Is that amount significant? It is if you care about cleaner air and a healthier planet! The 460 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol Americans used in 2012 cut CO2 emissions by the same amount as planting nearly 57 million trees and letting them grow for 10 years.

These vital facts are getting lost in a debate that’s heating up in Washington, D.C. over renewable fuels. The key policy – known as the Renewable Fuel Standard – was enacted to improve U.S. energy security and reduce greenhouse gases. And the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is clearly working as Congress intended when measured in terms of increasing American consumption of renewable fuel. It has grown production and use of biofuels in the U.S. from around 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 15 billion gallons last year. But critics and special interests are lining up to urge changes by both Congressional legislators and environmental regulators.

So sugarcane ethanol producers, along with our colleagues in the advanced biofuels industry, plan to step up our profile. We’ll take a more active role setting the record straight on the importance and benefits of this advanced biofuel – starting with new information available at our dedicated website: sugarcane.org/rfs. Here you’ll find a brief summary of the issue and our position that Congress and environmental regulators should maintain American access to clean, advanced biofuels like sugarcane ethanol. We also answer many frequently asked questions. Topics like: What is sugarcane ethanol? Why would Americans want it? What are advanced biofuels and other biomaterials from sugarcane? And many more.

You’ll also see more regular posts from me and other collaborators here on the Sugarcane Blog. So to kick things off, I’d like to reiterate some guiding principles (first articulated by my friend and colleague Joel Velasco) that will serve as ground rules for our blogging and participation in the RFS debate:

1 – Honesty. Americans’ trust in government keeps getting lower. I think this decline is mostly because our policy discussions are no longer honest debates, but a litany of overheated talking points that all too often veer from the truth. So, on this blog, we commit to sticking to the truth and promise to admit if we come up short. Honesty is the best prescription to regain the public trust.

2 – Consistency. Cherry-picking may be a good strategy at an orchard, but not for public policy. Being consistent means practicing what we preach, demanding accountability and, yes, being fair and balanced.

3 – Sweet Humor. There’s nothing wrong with mixing a little fun with work, and we’ll try to do that on this blog as well. Like this: In Brazil, a common sugar industry saying is “drink the best, drive the rest.” That’s because the national drink in Brazil, the “caipirinha”, is made with sugarcane alcohol, which, when it fills the tank of our cars, is called ethanol. We’re eagerly awaiting the “booze vs. fuel” debate to heat up. Any takers?

So take a look around and check back whenever you want an update. You’ll find that the United States and Brazil are the world’s largest biofuels producers and exporters. Both countries recently removed trade barriers protecting their domestic ethanol industries and have taken initial steps towards greater energy cooperation. And I firmly believe that Brazil and the U.S. have a responsibility to work together to build a global biofuels market that provides clean, affordable and sustainable solutions to the planet’s growing energy needs. That’s the ultimate goal of the campaign we renew today.

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips is UNICA’s Representative for North America. Ms. Phillips is an expert on Brazil-US relations and leads the Brazilian sugarcane industry’s advocacy efforts before the main stakeholders in the region, including the US Congress, Federal agencies, State legislators and business and civil society.