Politics, Policy and Principles


April 2, 2012 |

By Mary Rosenthal, Executive Director, Algal Biomass Organization

In the past few weeks we’ve seen and heard a lot of chatter about high gas prices, domestic energy and biofuels – algae biofuels in particular.  Some took the opportunity to turn President Obama’s support for algae into a liability for him, and the algae industry into a political football.

While I think most reasonable people, and certainly anyone with any knowledge of the algae industry, understand that this is “just politics”, I and the Algal Biomass Organization have the responsibility to ensure that the “politics” of algae do not cross over into the “policy” of algae.

That’s why I was so pleased to see Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduce an amendment to the Transportation bill that would have given algae much-needed tax parity in the Renewable Fuel Standard. Although the amendment failed by a tie vote of 49-49, the discussion and several conversations our members had on Capitol Hill during ABO’s annual legislative fly-in in March, show that when people take the time to learn the facts about the algae industry’s potential, they become supportive of our efforts to keep progress moving.

After all, who doesn’t want more oil, more animal feed, more and better nutrition for human health? That’s what the algae industry can, and is, delivering.

At ABO we don’t begrudge politicians for being political, and in most cases, misinformation that shows up in political skirmishes is temporary. However, real damage can be leveled if that same misinformation is used to influence policy.

We all have to live with politics, but we have to live by policy. Bad policy, once set, can take years or decades to undo.

The events of the past few weeks have made two things very clear to me. First, there’s is no substitute for clear, correct and consistent information about the benefits of the algae industry. It’s why we launched AllAboutAlgae.com earlier this year and why we continue to invest time and money to conduct legislative briefings, fly-ins, education and workshops on behalf of our members and the industry

Second, it’s also clear that the algae industry – and the biofuels industry in general – shouldn’t be distracted by politics. Rather, we must continue our focus on policy, whether it’s ABO’s effort for parity in the tax code, or cross-organizational unity on the importance of Title IX in the 2012 Farm Bill, or continued support for long-term contract purchasing of biofuels by the Department of Defense. Success at the policy level will do more for the industry than winning the news cycle of the day.

We all must march confidently forward knowing that our principles – domestic energy and national security, economic development and jobs, nutritional health, are important to Americans regardless of party affiliation.

I am looking forward to joining the heads of the other great biofuels trade associations as well as the incredible biofuels entrepreneurs at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference this week, where I am sure there will be many spirited conversations about both politics and policy.

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