Ethanol, economy take center stage at ABC

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Ethanol and the economy - two of the biggest challenges facing the marine industry today - topped the agenda this morning at the American Boating Congress in Washington, D.C.

"The financial crisis that began last fall has been the greatest economic slump in 50 years," said David Slikkers, chairman of the National Marine Manufacturers Association board of directors, in his opening remarks. "None of us are sure when the bottom will occur."

Jeffrey Wrase, Republican chief economist from Congress's Joint Economic Committee, addressed that uncertainty in his presentation this morning.

"We're starting to see some signs of moving toward stability ... and it looks like we could be headed toward a recovery by the end of the year," he said.

As proof, he cited some tentative signs that housing sales are hitting bottom and that home prices, while still down, have shown some positive signs. He also pointed to a slight increase in consumer confidence in the first quarter and said there have been some declines in initial claims for unemployment insurance in recent weeks.

Wrase said he expects gross domestic product to post a more modest decline in the second quarter - about 2 percent, compared to the 6.3 percent and 6.1 percent declines in the 2008 fourth quarter and 2009 first quarter, respectively.

On the issue of ethanol, Karl Simon, from the Environmental Protection Agency, said the NMMA's legislative conference couldn't be timelier, because the Obama Administration yesterday released the requirements for Renewable Fuel Standards 2.

"The requirements are very ambitious in terms of the volumes they want us to replace, and ethanol will certainly play a part in that," said Simon, director of the Compliance and Innovative Strategies Division of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

He also reminded attendees of the waiver request submitted by Growth Energy — an organization representing ethanol producers — that seeks an increase in ethanol blends from the current E10 to E15. The comment period for that waiver request ends May 21, but Simon said the EPA is considering an extension.

He assured attendees that it is the EPA's "sincere hope and desire" to work through some of the concerns of the marine industry and others opposed to midlevel ethanol blends, such as testing obligations for engines.

He also said that even if the waiver for midlevel blends is approved, that doesn't mean E15 will be mandated by the government.

"If the EPA grants the waiver, all that does is make the fuel legal," said Simon. "It doesn't require anyone to sell it."

In other business this morning, the NMMA presented legislative awards to members who have gone above and beyond the call in helping the industry with lobbying efforts.

Legislative Achievement Awards were presented to Jim Hardin of Grady-White and Robin Parker of Parker Boats for their successful efforts in fighting a North Carolina ban on the towing of boats with beams of more than 8 feet on weekends and holidays.

Corporate Citizenship Awards were presented to the following companies for their efforts in getting their senior executives and other employees to contribute to the NMMA's Political Action Committee: Sumerset Houseboats, Regulator Marine, Indmar Products and Faria Marine Instruments.

Finally, industry veteran J.J. Marie, who this year retired from Zodiac of North America and who has been active in numerous boards and legislative issues over the years, was presented with the NMMA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

— Melanie Winters

m.winters@tradeonlytoday.com

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