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Policy: Environment & Energy

The (green) empire strikes back against ethanol critics

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Beltway Confidential,EPA,Ashe Schow,Energy and Environment,Reddit

Ethanol supporters are unhappy about the recent AP report suggesting their favorite fuel hurts the environment, and they're out in full force to protect the federal mandate that keeps them in business.

"At best, the AP article is lazy journalism, but at worst, it appears purposefully designed to damage the ethanol industry," said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol.

"There was an incredibly reckless disregard for the truth in the handiwork of this hit piece," Jennings said.

The ethanol mandate defenders want AP to retract its report, which said large chunks of land that would otherwise grow food and provide animal habitats are being converted to grow corn exclusively for ethanol production.

“Ethanol is disrupting the profitable status quo for oil companies, and oil companies are very influential in Washington and the media," Jennings said. "It appears this was done with a design to purposefully damage the ethanol industry.”

Among AP's errors, according to ethanol advocates, was the claim that corn prices are higher now when they are at their lowest level since 2010.

They also say farmers planted more corn because of the 2012 drought, not because of ethanol, as reported by AP.

The news service also quoted Leroy Perkins, an Iowa farmer who seemed to suggest that the increase in corn planting marred Iowa's landscape.

Now, however, Perkins said AP took what he said out of context and mislead him about the nature of the report.

“Not once was I led to believe they were going to do a ‘wham-bang’ on ethanol,” Perkins told Fuels America, a pro-ethanol organization.

Perkins said he does “not think that ethanol has been bad for the environment,” and he would like to increase its use.

The Renewable Fuels Association, one of the most prominent advocates and lobbyists for ethanol, disputed the AP report, with Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis, saying that “there’s probably more truth in this week’s National Enquirer than there is in the AP story.”

Cooper took to reddit.com to voice his dismay during an “Ask Me Anything” (a forum-based town hall meeting) with AP reporter Matt Apuzzo, one of the authors of the news service's report.

Cooper particularly criticized AP for ignoring studies he claimed show ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline, also emphasizing hypothetical emission changes due to land use.

Apuzzo said AP used the Environmental Protection Agency’s model of land conversion and the resulting reduction in greenhouse gases.

Apuzzo said modeling of the issue is difficult, and “the government has changed its pitch on ethanol from ‘it’s good for the environment’ to ‘it’s good for farmers,’ without acknowledging any of the consequences of the policy.”

That prompted Brooke Coleman, executive director for the Advanced Ethanol Council, which is associated with RFA, to chime in during the Reddit discussion:

“You are basically saying that farmers planted more in response to higher corn prices from ethanol,” Coleman said. “The problem is, we have higher corn prices almost completely because of higher oil prices.”

Coleman asked if Apuzzo looked at oil prices as a driver for corn prices. Apuzzo pointed to comments by Joseph Glauber, the Department of Agriculture's chief economist:

“Driven by a combination of favorable market forces and government biofuel policies, including the [Renewable Fuel Standard], the increase has spurred corn production and corn use for ethanol and has been one of the factors in the recent grain price boom and overall improvements in farm balance sheets including record farm incomes over the past few years.”

Glauber's comment came during his June testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“It's not the factor. It's a factor,” Apuzzo said, and he reminded his opponents that “it's not cut and dry that the environmental effects [of ethanol] are negative,” but “the ethanol era has definitely not been as green as politicians promised.”

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