Governors Say Biofuels Group Listed Them as Members Without Consent

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By Ari Natter

April 2 — A group that represents governors who support increased use of biofuels has been portraying some governors as members—without their knowledge or consent—who actually oppose the renewable fuel standard, an analysis by Bloomberg BNA hasfound.

The Lincoln, Neb.–based Governors' Biofuel Coalition, which currently lists 28 state governors as members on its website, has recently removed several from its roster after receiving requests from governors' offices, and in at least one case the threat of legal action.

The nonprofit organization has also listed governors without their consent as board members in tax forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, and in regulatory and legal filings, indicating the group's actions went beyond just failing to update its website, according to documents.

Group Reviewing Membership.

Larry Pearce, the executive director of the group originally formed in 2001 as the Governors' Ethanol Coalition, said he is in the process of confirming which governors want to be in the group.

“We are reaching out to all of them right now to make sure they got to the letter,” Pearce said in an interview.

Among the governors who were listed as members of the coalition without their consent was New Mexico's Susana Martinez (R), whose general counsel threatened legal action against the group.

“As you know, elected officeholders often change from term to term,” Jessica M. Hernandez, Martinez's general counsel, wrote in a March 6 letter to the coalition obtained by Bloomberg BNA. “It would be a best practice for your organization to actually communicate with those elected officials who have not in fact affirmatively expressed their individual intent to be a member and actually determine if they seek membership.”

Documents Not Shared With Members.

Since Martinez took office in 2011, the coalition has not provided her with notices of its annual or special meetings; provided copies of meeting agendas, minutes, or financial statements; “or communicated with her in any meaningful way about the initiatives or lawsuits of the coalition,” the letter said. “This is understandable, as Governor Martinez is not a member of the Coalition nor does she desire to be at this time.”

Other states whose governors have recently been removed from the coalition's membership roster include Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

“The governor was not aware that he was a member of the coalition, and he was removed at his request,” Nicole Webb, communications director for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley has also sent a letter to the Governors Biofuel Coalition asking to be removed, press secretary Chaney Adams told Bloomberg BNA. She was still listed as a member as of April 2.

Rick Perry Listed as a Member.

Representatives of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) did not return requests for comment.

The group had also listed then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) as a member of its board of directors in tax documents from 2012. Perry is a longtime critic of ethanol and one of several governors who in 2012 sought a waiver from Renewable Fuel Standards requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency, citing drought. Perry could not be reached for comment.

In addition, the group filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in support of a group suing the EPA on ground's the agency' s Tier 3 emissions standard includes a provision that prevents gasoline producers from creating new fuel blends containing more ethanol (Energy Future Coal. v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 14-1123, 6/26/14).

The brief specifically states the group has 32 members and made reference to their website, which at the time included Texas and other states that have since been removed.

Legal Brief Filed on Members' Behalf.

“The Governors' Biofuels Coalition (“GBC”) is a group of thirty-two (32) state governors who believe that clean-burning biofuels can decrease the nation's dependence on imported energy resources, improve public health and the environment, and stimulate the national economy,” the brief said. “As elected governors, GBC members are charged with protecting the health and welfare of their constituents.”

Pearce, the group's executive director, said he has since filed an errata notice with the court correcting the issue.

He said the problem occurred after governors' offices ignored a letter sent by the coalition in January asking if they still wanted to be in the group. If he did not receive a response, Pearce said, he assumed they wanted to be members of the coalition and listed themas such.

“Unfortunately, snail mail tends to get ignored today,” he said. “In the future we are going to need to follow up.”

According to the coalition's bylaws, the coalition shall be composed of governors who have “affirmatively elected to join.”

‘Misleading at Best.'

“It’s misleading to have these states still on there that signed on in the early '90s,” said Chris Warren, a spokesman for the Institute for Energy Research, a Washington nonprofit that has received funding from renewable fuel standard opponents such asExxonMobil. “It’s misleading at best.”

The group spent $60,000 lobbying Congress in 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.

The following year, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which expanded the renewable fuel standard to require refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels into the motor fuel supply by 2022.