A History of Leadership

The Renewable Fuels Association has been the driving force behind all the major developments that helped grow the U.S. ethanol industry.

1978: With years of oil embargoes leading to calls for energy security, EPA allows 10% ethanol blend in gasoline. The Energy Tax Act provides a partial exemption for ethanol from federal motor fuel taxes.


1980: After a push by the ethanol producers who would later form RFA, Congress establishes a tariff on ethanol imports to offset the blender’s tax exemption.

1981: The Renewable Fuels Association is founded in Washington as the first national trade association representing U.S. ethanol producers.

1984: Congress includes a six-cent-per-gallon federal fuel tax exemption for ethanol fuels in a tax bill.


1988: Denver becomes the first city to mandate the use of oxygenated fuels to address air quality concerns.


1990: Clean Air Act Amendments establish reformulated and oxygenated gasoline programs for metro areas with air quality issues.


1992: Oxygenated fuels program begins in 39 “nonattainment areas” across the U.S. Refiners develop MTBE as primary oxygenate, but ethanol use also gets a boost from the oxy fuels program.

1993: Annual ethanol production surpasses one billion gallons. Average ethanol blend tops 1% for the first time.


1995: National reformulated gasoline program begins in one-third of the U.S. fuel market, opening new markets for ethanol as an additive to help clean the air.

1996: U.S. automakers begin mass production of flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on up to E85.

1997: Tax bill extends ethanol tax exemption through 2004.


1998: States begin banning the use of MTBE, which was found to be contaminating groundwater.


2001: RFA leads effort to ensure EPA denies California’s request to opt of RFG and oxygenate requirements. RFA convenes a strategic planning session and resolves to support a national renewable fuel standard of 10 billion gallons by 2010.


2002: BP and ExxonMobil begin phasing out MTBE and switching to ethanol in California. API President Red Cavaney speaks at National Ethanol Conference and announces an agreement with RFA to pursue a national RFS in lieu of oxygenated fuel requirements.


2004: RFA leads effort to defeat legislative attempts to eliminate oxygenated fuel requirements without passage of a national RFS.

2005: President George W. Bush signs the Energy Policy Act into law, creating the first-ever Renewable Fuel Standard, which would require increasing amounts of biofuel to be blended into the fuel supply, up to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.  Ethanol tax exemption transformed into Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC).  


2006: Speaking to the RFA Board of Directors, President George W. Bush underscores the need for an expanded RFS.


2007: Renewable Fuel Standard is greatly expanded with the signing of the Energy Independence and Security Act. With the addition of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, the standard is raised to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. The average ethanol blend rate hits 5%.


2009: RFA conducts first of 13 annual ethanol promotions at South Dakota’s popular Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.


2010: California’s first-in-the-nation Low Carbon Fuel Standard takes effect. In its first decade, ethanol generates more greenhouse gas reductions than any other fuel used to meet LCFS requirements.

2011: EPA approves blends of 15% ethanol in gasoline (E15) for use in model year 2001 and newer passenger cars and light trucks. The ethanol industry agrees to let VEETC and tariff expire. U.S. ethanol industry becomes a net exporter, as exports top 1 billion gallons for the first time.

2014: With NCGA and other partners, RFA founds the High Octane Low Carbon Alliance to focus attention on the air quality and health benefits of higher ethanol blends.


2016: Ethanol consumption breaks the “blend wall,” comprising more than 10% of the nation’s gasoline.


2017: President Donald Trump sends a letter to RFA members attending the National Ethanol Conference expressing his support for ethanol and the RFS. With corn grower partners, RFA launches sponsorship of Crappie Masters Tournament Trail to help educate recreational boaters and anglers about the benefits of ethanol.


2018: Millions of motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide learn about ethanol, as RFA’s custom E85 motorcycle is featured on episodes of American Chopper.

2018: U.S. ethanol production reaches 16.1 billion gallons.

2019: RFA hosts President Donald Trump at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy to celebrate the approval of year-round E15.


2020:  RFA welcomes President George W. Bush to the National Ethanol Conference. Tenth Circuit Court finds in favor of RFA in pivotal small refinery exemption lawsuit. The COVID-19 pandemic leads to global lockdowns and fuel demand plummets, causing many ethanol producers to pivot to hand sanitizer production. At the peak of the crisis, over half of the industry’s capacity was shuttered and roughly three-quarters of ethanol plants were offline or operating at reduced rates.


2021: RFA members unanimously pledge to achieve a 70 percent GHG reduction for ethanol, on average, when compared directly to gasoline by 2030—and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, on average, by 2050 or sooner.

Today, more than 200 ethanol plants around the country have the capacity to produce more than 17 billion gallons of ethanol. The industry supports roughly 350,000 jobs and provides over $40 billion to the national GDP.