FORT WALTON BEACH -- Last year state Rep. Matt Gaetz was able to neuter but not kill a state requirement that Florida service stations pump only gasoline containing ethanol.
His fellow lawmakers refused to take the 2008 Renewable Fuel Standard Act off the books, but they did agree to remove provisions through which merchants could be punished for ignoring it.
“Only in government do you get a compromise like I got,” Gaetz told the Okaloosa League of Women Voters recently. “We still have the mandate, but you don’t get in trouble for violating it.”
This year he and state Sen. Greg Evers of Baker have vowed to try again to do away with the ethanol mandate.
Gaetz, who has already filed House Bill 4001 to eliminate the ethanol mandate, said he learned Tuesday that Adam Putnam, commissioner of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was dropping his opposition to it.
“Last year Commissioner Putnam’s opposition was a major hurdle for us,” said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. Gaetz said Putnam decided to drop his opposition after learning that BP, which had considered building a major ethanol refining plant in Central Florida, was backing off the idea.
“They’ve decided ethanol production in Florida is not viable,” he said.
The Renewable Fuel Standard Act was passed in response to a federal decree that states begin moving toward using gasoline containing more ethanol.
What Gaetz has called “a feel-good attempt to use alternative energy” became state law, he told the League of Women Voters, at a time in Florida when “Gov. Crist was being politically romanced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.”
Ethanol is a product created by fermenting and distilling starch crops that is said to help lessen the amount of carbon dioxide released in the air as fossil fuels are consumed.
When the act was implemented in 2010, all the gasoline sold in Florida was required to contain between 9 and 10 percent ethanol.
A ruling by a Federal Court of Appeals this week opened the door to distribution of fuels with a 15 percent ethanol concentration, The Hill website reported Tuesday.
Christina Martin, executive vice president of the national Renewable Fuels Association, said, “Now is not the time for Florida to stick its head in the sand and deny its role as a potential leader in biofuels.”
“At this time, next generation ethanol companies are starting up like the one in Vero Beach, which is currently generating 400 direct and indirect jobs and will result in 60 full-time jobs,” Martin said in an email.
"The state is implementing a vision to improve infrastructure for moving ethanol product," Martin said.
“Florida should be proud. It should lead, not run from a future that is more energy independent and economically secure,” she said.
The Gaetz-Evers bill introduced last year added language making that there would be no penalty for distributors or retailers who provide gasoline without ethanol, Gaetz said.
He argued last year that ethanol had proven to be hard on some engines and reduced a vehicle’s miles-per-gallon performance, and that the energy required to produce ethanol negated any savings that might be realized.
He said he wants to finish last year’s work “to send the right message of freedom in every corner of the market.”
Gaetz also said eliminating the Renewable Fuel Standard Act will clear up any existing controversy for gasoline distributors and retailers.
“I think at a minimum they are confused,” he said.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.