American Boating Congress participants from Indiana had one of the most daunting tasks of any ABC contingent: convince home-state lawmakers that increasing ethanol content in gasoline to 15 percent is a bad idea.
Anyone who’s been to Indiana — or knows anything about the Hoosier State — understands this is a place that takes corn seriously. And corn is the prime ingredient in ethanol. Still, the delegation didn’t shy away from the issue. They brought it up in each of the four meetings they had scheduled while also talking to their representatives about supporting the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act, amending the Lacey Act to ease concerns about its unintended consequences, maintaining boating and fishing access in Biscayne National Park’s proposed general management plan and supporting the Sport Fish Restoration & Boating Trust Fund.
Some of these concerns come up year after year, including E15, but Matt Peat, vice president of sales and marketing for Transhield, says it’s still necessary to discuss the issues whenever you get face time with lawmakers. Congressmen receive an “overabundance” of information, he says; the repetition resonates with lawmakers and builds understanding. “If you don’t show up and tell them your side of the story, they won’t know,” Peat says.
In addition to Peat, the Indiana ABC delegation included Scott and Grant Porter, president and executive vice president, respectively, of Formula; Doug Smoker, president and CEO of SmokerCraft; and Bruce Rowe, director of marine services at Forever Resorts/Fun Country Marine Industries. Some have been coming to ABC for years, but others were there for the first time.
“[Hill meetings] are almost a matter of survival, the way things are going,” says Smoker, who was at his first ABC and hopes to bring more people from his company next year.
Grant Porter, who’s been coming for years, says, “We have to keep that message in front of them. … Face to face is the best way.”
The delegation’s first meeting of the day was with Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who is both a boater and a farmer. The group gave its pitch against E15, and the congressman listened and acknowledged he’d heard from others who had concerns. However, he says, E15 likely will happen. “I don’t know where energy goes. … It just seems like there’s so much up in the air right now.” The boating people left the meeting acknowledging that they probably didn’t have his vote against E15.
So it was on to Rep. Mike Pence’s office. The affable congressman, who is running for governor of Indiana, told the group he wants to make Indiana the “boating manufacturing capital of America. We’re proud of the industry in the state. We do two things well: make things and grow things,” he says.
Smoker used that comment to segue into E15, talking about the problems it causes for the marine industry while acknowledging that voting against anything to do with ethanol would be tough for Indiana lawmakers. Pence, a Republican who says he believes the desire for ethanol needs to be market-driven, admits his record on the issue is mixed and tilts toward the corn growers.
“It’s hard on equipment,” Grant Porter said.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” Pence said, adding he’d like more information about isobutanol — a possible alternative to ethanol that doesn’t seem to have the same impact on engines.
Pence says it’s great to hear that the marine industry is picking up a bit. He says he is “bullish” on the elections this fall and believes presumptive nominee Mitt Romney will be a good candidate for the GOP. It was a good meeting with Pence and he didn’t dismiss outright the industry’s concerns on ethanol.
The group then trekked to the Senate side of the Hill for a meeting with Republican Sen. Dan Coats’ staff. Meeting with the senator’s legislative correspondent, Cory Palmer, they heard positive responses to all of the issues raised — even ethanol. “We already agree with this one,” Palmer says of E15. “We’re with you on this one.”
There was one more meeting scheduled, this one with a member of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar’s staff. The staffer listened intently to what the group had to say on all of the issues and thanked them for visiting. All in all, the Indiana group was happy with the Hill visits. “I thought they went fairly well,” Scott Porter says. “It’s very important to come out and make sure they’re hearing the message loud and clear.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.