It’s No Secret: AP Article About So-Called ‘Dirty Ethanol’ Ignores Facts

November 14, 2013

If you’re in need of some lining for your puppy crate, reach no further than this week’s Associated Press article about the so-called secret environmental cost of ethanol.

The real secret here? How something as one-sided as this got published in the first place.

Even USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has stated that the AP project included “a number of inaccuracies and errors.”

It’s really a mess from the start, claiming farmers are “wiping out millions of acres of conservation land,” “plowing into pristine prairies” and “destroying habitats” to plant corn for ethanol.

The reality? CRP land was capped at 32 million acres beginning in 2010 as a result of the 2008 farm bill. It is impossible to get back to the all-time high of 36.8 million acres (2007) because of the cap, not ethanol.

In fact, total crop acres in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota actually declined 2.1 percent from 2006-11, while U.S. forest and grassland increased dramatically during a period when ethanol production more than tripled.

The AP story also questions ethanol’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the story’s authors chose to use anti-ethanol think-tank talking heads as sources instead of actual peer-reviewed data and unbiased experts on the subject.

Peer-reviewed research concurs that renewable fuel generates fewer life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline. Here’s one study from Purdue University. Here’s another from the University of Nebraska.

A recent lifecycle analysis of corn ethanol published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that corn produced between 2008-12 reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 34 percent compared to gasoline.

A main theme throughout the AP story is the price of corn as it relates to ethanol. Today, we are having a record corn crop and prices hover around $4 per bushel, the lowest they’ve been in three years. Corn prices are back to where they were in 2008, when the Renewable Fuels Standard 2 was implemented.

The spike in corn prices in the previous two years can be attributed to massive drought, not ethanol.

The story also claims that fuel is now the No. 1 use for corn in America. This is simply untrue. Livestock feed remains the No. 1 use. Period.

For every 56-pound bushel of corn that is made into 2.8 gallons of ethanol, 17 pounds — about one-third — is returned as a high-protein animal feed, ensuring that livestock feed remains the No. 1 use for U.S. corn by a wide margin.

These are just a few of the gross inaccuracies in the article. For an in-depth examination, we encourage you to read the impressive commentary by Minnesota Corn Growers Association that fact-checks a number of the wild claims made within the story with a fine-toothed comb. This commentary is available here.

When a story like this one is written — one that parrots talking points from ethanol critics and regurgitates dated myths and blatantly wrong “facts” from anti-everything environmental groups — we feel it’s our responsibility to make sure they don’t get away with it. We hope you will do the same.