Corn Commentary

What Facts Are Really Facts?

whats in gas

(This guest blog is provided by Matt Reese who writes for Ohio’s Country Journal).

It can be really hard to know which way to feel about some issues because these days it seems everyone has their own set of “facts” that conclusively proves their point. The problem, of course, is that as soon as you conclusively prove a point, you run into someone else who has an entirely different set of facts that definitively proves their point, which happens to be the opposite view of the first point that was proven. Confused yet? I know I am.

One only has to sit and listen to a political debate on any issue between any candidates of any party to get all caught up in a muddled mess of my-facts-versus-your-facts. Then there is often a behind-the-scenes reporter who does a fact check on the aforementioned facts to clarify the situation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these fact checks often just compound the problem by providing another opportunity to spin the issue with a set of suspect facts about the facts.

Of course, in my line of work I see this all the time in great detail with the wide variety of complicated issues facing food and agriculture. This is certainly true in the current debate over the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending decision about the levels set in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The recent story by Joel Penhorwood on this issue highlights the divergent facts in the RFS debate. Here is an excerpt:

ACCF (an anti-ethanol group) Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.

“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.

That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim. 

“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”

The heated debate over the RFS really ramped up in recent weeks with dueling ad campaigns in Ohio and Washington, D.C. highlighting very different sets of facts pertaining to ethanol’s impact on the environment, the economy and so forth. So whose facts are right?

In the end, the complexities of these various issues generally boil down to some basic truths. The key for me is getting down to those basic truths and sorting out how I feel about those. So, here are some facts about the RFS (that are really facts) that helped me to form my opinion.

  1. Congress created and approved the RFS.
  2. Businesses planned their investment strategies based upon the RFS.
  3. The RFS was implemented and businesses responded as they saw fit.

While there are many more nuances to the RFS debate, for me this set of undisputable facts is reason enough to support it. The government made a deal. Regardless of whether you like the deal or not, it was made and I believe it should be upheld and seen through to fruition. Maybe this set of facts doesn’t address your primary concerns about he RFS. Here are more real facts.

  1. Ethanol offsets the purchase of foreign oil.
  2. Ethanol is made from corn produced by American farmers.

I would rather support farmers in the U.S. with my energy dollar than who knows who I am supporting when I use petroleum.

In the end, there is usually at least some kernel of truth in either side of these debates. Which facts matter to you? The way I sort through them is by identifying the key (and real) facts of the matter that really matter to me.

Either way, the RFS is a no-brainer in my book.

Huffington Post Goes Green in Support of Ethanol over Oil

Big Oil concocted the blend wall myth to protect its own profits, at least according to an article run today in the Huffington Post. Carefully delineating the events which led to the EPA’s reduction in required volume obligations announced in May, author Paul Alexander questions,” will the myth of a blend wall destroy the RFS, on which a good portion of the renewable fuel business is built, or will hard facts prevail?”

The piece, a departure from the anti-corn ethanol rhetoric often seen in national media, thoughtfully explores the connections behind the policy shift. From an Obama administration official reported by Reuters to have met with anti-RFS lobbying groups during his White House tenure to carefully detailing Department of Energy statement which affirm the viability of higher ethanol blends, Alexander crafts a solid argument that the blend wall arose from pro-oil propagandists.

Logically, he draws the seemingly obvious conclusion. Backing away from the RFS does equate to running toward a fossil fuel future. For an administration touting its environmental street cred, the move seems illogical at best.

Take a moment to read the article in full by clicking here.

From rallies in the Heartland to a flood of messages sent to the Hill, ethanol’s proponents must make their voice heard. Today, Alexander proved to be a prominent ally in this critical struggle to grow a cleaner, greener future for Americans by pointing out the current path only adds to the green in the pockets of Big Oil.

Why the RFS is Important to Corn Farmers

iowa-corn-reckerDespite the challenges that come every year with farming, Iowa corn grower Mark Recker sees his future and the future of his children in the industry, in part because of what the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has meant for rural communities like his in Fayette County.

“The RFS is the one shining star that has brought opportunities back to this state,” said Recker during a conference call for America’s Renewable Future (ARF) this week. “It’s not just important that I and my farm do well, but my entire community succeeds and that’s what ethanol and the RFS has done for us.”

ARF-LogoThe Iowa Corn Growers Association was one of the founders of America’s Renewable Future, a coalition formed earlier this year committed to educating presidential candidates in both parties about the RFS. “We’re involved because over a third of our corn crop goes directly into the ethanol industry,” said ICGA CEO Craig Floss, who has seen the ethanol industry grow from almost nothing in 1997 to what it is today. “It’s been a tremendous success story to say the least.”

Floss says because the new EPA’s proposed volume requirements for biofuels under the RFS are lower than the statute intended, it would mean less consumer choice at the pump and limit innovation for both first and second generation ethanol plants. “Less gallons being blended, less choice,” said Floss.

Listen to comments from Mark and Craig here: What RFS means to corn growers

Speaking Out for RFS

You might remember the turnout in December 2013 at an EPA hearing after the release of the recalled 2014 volume obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Over 100 people from across the country testified on behalf of the RFS. That hearing was held near Washington DC. Imagine what the turnout will be like on June 25 for a hearing on the new and improved EPA proposal that will be held in the heart of the Heartland – Kansas City.

mess-rfsThe industry is already planning to be out in force. “I hope the EPA hears loud and clear from farmers and consumers and biofuels producers about what this proposal really does,” said Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen, who spoke passionately at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop last week about all of the ways EPA has worked against biofuels and agriculture. “There’s something desperately wrong with the EPA,” said Dinneen adding that they “seem to have a war on farmers. RFA CEO Bob Dinneen comments at FEW

“We want everybody in the world to show up there,” says Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis of the June 25 hearing. “Everyone ought to weigh in.”

“They got the first one wrong a year and a half ago, they got this one wrong,” said Buis. “We stopped the last one, we’re going to change this one.” Interview with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis at FEW

American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Executive Vice President Brian Jennings says they plan to show the power of the people in this industry at the hearing. “We’re going to get a bunch of retailers who are selling E15 and E85 to go to that hearing and tell EPA face-to-face that the blend wall isn’t real,” said Jennings. “We’re going to make sure we get some very persuasive messengers to come deliver a very compelling message to that hearing.” Interview with ACE Executive VP Brian Jennings at FEW

Details about the hearing are expected to be published in the Federal Register this week. The proposal will be open for public comment until July 27.

NCGA with NAFB on Capitol Hill

ww15-ncga-doggettMembers of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) were on Capitol Hill last week talking with lawmakers, administration officials, and industry organizations about topics important to agriculture, and the National Corn Growers Association was happy to once again be part of that event.

NCGA Executive Vice President Jon Doggett, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Manager Clint Raine, and Director of Public Policy Zach Kinne addressed several different topics with farm broadcasters from around the country.

Doggett talked about the current situation with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the timeline recently announced by EPA to release long overdue volume requirements for biofuels. “We won’t have the numbers until we have the numbers,” said Doggett. “We need to get this done right away and I don’t know that people are necessarily believing what EPA says, I think we’re going to have to wait and see what they do.”

Listen to the interview with Doggett conducting by Agri-Pulse reporter Spencer Chase: Interview with Jon Doggett, NCGA

ww15-ncga-raineRaine discussed NCGA’s comments to the Federal Aviation Administration on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for agriculture. “I think there were about 40,000 comments that were actually submitted,” said Raine. “But I think we’re looking at another 16 months until that final rule comes out.”

Raine says NCGA says unmanned aerial systems offer great potential for farmers, and will ultimately reduce costs, improve efficiency, and make farming operations more sustainable, but there are privacy issues. Interview with Clint Raine, NCGA

ww15-ncga-zachKinne’s area was biotechnology and specifically the recent announcement from the European Union that they would allow member nations the option to ban imports of biotech food and feed. “It would really just be a nightmare when you look at the supply chain and importing of the crops that we produce,” he said. At the same time, NCGA is encouraged by the EU’s approval last week of 17 biotech traits for import. “It’s a little hard to applaud them for not making a decision since 2013 but some of those approvals are corn events,” said Kinne.

In this interview, Kinne also discusses the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Interview with Zach Kinne, NCGA

Happy 5th Anniversary American Ethanol!

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

Over the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, American Ethanol and NASCAR officially celebrated five years and seven million miles of running on 15% ethanol blended Sunoco Green E15, unveiling a new paint scheme with E15 prominently located on the hood of Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet SS.

Dillon, who has been advocating the benefits of ethanol for three years now, drove his first American Ethanol paint of the 2015 racing season in the Saturday Toyota Owners 400 race, which was delayed by rain until Sunday. While he finished 27th in the race, ethanol still came in first.

During a press conference on Saturday, National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling talked about what the American Ethanol partnership has meant for American farmers. “E15 American Ethanol turns our unrivaled ability to produce corn into a national asset. Consumer demand for ethanol is good for family farmers and fans appreciate that,” said Bowling. “We have grown the 12 largest corn crops in history in the last 12 years so ethanol demand is critical. It means farmers can pay their bills, reinvest in the broader economy and keep family operations like mine viable for future generations.”

Bowling added that according to a 2014 study, NASCAR fans are over 75 percent more likely than non-fans to support the use of ethanol blended with gasoline to fuel their own car.

Motor Club Finds No Ethanol-Related Claims

acmcAAA has been an outspoken critic of the move to 15% ethanol blended fuel but there are other motor clubs that don’t tow that line.

Gene Hammond with Association Motor Club Marketing and Travelers Motor Club, which represent 50 years in the business and over 20 million members, says they studied their claims over the past several years to see if there were any related to ethanol. “And what we discovered is that we have not had one ethanol-related claim where we’ve had to go out and tow,” said Hammond. “In fact, the opposite is true.”

Hammond explains that claims related to gasoline freeze used to be common in the northern part of the country, “but that’s gone away, we don’t have that anymore with ethanol.”

Hammond was pleased to join ethanol supporters
in Washington last week for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Fly-in to tell members of Congress and their staff his experiences with ethanol from both an automotive and a personal standpoint. “I’m from rural America and we told the story about how ethanol has really made a difference,” he said. Interview with Gene Hammond, AMCM and Travelers Motor Club

Putting Agriculture in the Political Spotlight

iowa-summitNine potential Republican presidential candidates were asked their opinions on various agricultural issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.

Comments made by at the event by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are still generating stories from major national news sources.

Over 270 journalists who attended the event, representing most if not all of the major news outlets nationwide, heard about some of the top issues for agriculture including trade, regulations, conservation, food safety, biotechnology, renewable fuels, and immigration as each taking candidate sat down on a stage with agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter for about 20 minutes.

The main focus of the event was to get the potential candidates to take a stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Six of the nine expressed at least conditional support, including Wisconsin Governor Walker who recently had been criticized by biofuel producers in his state for not taking a stand on the law. Three of the candidates – Cruz, Pataki, and Perry – came out firmly against the RFS, while at the same time saying they supported ethanol and other renewable fuels.

couser-cruzThe summit was organized with the support of America’s Renewable Future, a quasi-political campaign for the RFS introduced earlier this year. Co-chair Bill Couser, pictured here with Sen. Cruz, says their goal is to educate potential presidential candidates.

“Show them why we do this, how we do this, and say what do you think?” said Couser, an Iowa cattle producer and ethanol advocate. “I can say, let’s go look at a corn field, let’s go look at a feedlot, let’s go look at some windmills, let’s go look at Lincolnway Energy, and then let’s go to the DuPont plant right next door and I’ll show you what we’re doing with the whole plant and being sustainable.”

Couser says they plan to approach all potential presidential candidates individually and invite them to visit and learn more about agriculture and renewable energy, including Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be something if she showed up?” he said.

Listen to my interview with Bill at the recent National Ethanol Conference here: Interview with Bill Couser, America's Renewable Future Co-Chair

Leno Anti-Ethanol Rant Smells Like BO

leno-e85-corvetteThis picture from an April 2008 Popular Mechanics article written by former Tonight Show host Jay Leno shows him with a 2006 Corvette Z06 that he said “has a top speed of 208 mph and runs on a homegrown alternative to gasoline – cleaner burning E85 ethanol.”

In this interview with DomesticFuel in 2007, Leno talks about biodiesel specifically but all renewable fuels in general about being good for America and agriculture. “We try to support companies that make products here in America,” he said. “To me, it’s a great thing to see people no longer losing their farms because they can’t make a crop that’s viable anymore …you support the farmers, they watch my TV show, I buy their products.” 2007 Interview with Jay Leno on Renewable Fuels

Leno is a car enthusiast who has always supported renewable fuels, so his full-out attack monologue on ethanol this week in AutoWeek has to leave one wondering what inspired him to write it, since it has the distinctive smell of B.O. – that would be Big Oil.

Leno’s attack is not only blatantly false, but mean-spirited.

I just don’t see the need for ethanol. I understand the theory—these giant agri-business companies can process corn, add the resulting blend to gasoline and we’ll be using and importing less gasoline. But they say this diversion of the corn supply is negatively affecting food prices, and the ethanol-spiked gas we’re forced to buy is really awful.

The big growers of corn have sold us a bill of goods. Some people are making a lot of money because of ethanol. But as they divert production from food to fuel, food prices inevitably will rise. Now, if you don’t mind paying $10 for a tortilla …

Say it ain’t so, Leno. You seem like a basically nice guy we wouldn’t normally think would stoop to criticizing farmers. So, what gives?

Since the thrust of the article is contacting Congress to reform or eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, it’s a good guess that there is some big money behind it.

Syndicated car show host and technician Bobby Likis also thinks Leno’s article seems uncharacteristic. “I cannot believe “what Jay said” is “what Jay really believes.” His words smack of otherwise invested horse-whisperers who use personal agendas to sway vulnerable-for-whatever-reason people towards their way,” says Likis in an editorial for the E-xchange Blog refuting all of Leno’s claims.

I love the title to Bobby’s counter article. With Leno’s article titled “Can’t we Just Get Rid of Ethanol,” Bobby responded, “Can’t We Just Get Rid of Ethanol Ignorance?” Can’t we?

EPA Official Apologizes to Ethanol Industry

nec15-grundlerLast year at the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, EPA’s Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality told the ethanol industry that the agency intended to finalize the volume requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by the end of spring 2014.

As everyone knows that never happened and at the 2015 National Ethanol Conference in Dallas last week, EPA’s Chris Grundler began his remarks to the industry with an apology. “I wanted to come to Texas and personally tell you all how sorry I am that we did not get our work done,” he said. “We did not finalize a standard in 2014 that I promised we would when I appeared before all of you in Orlando.”

Gundler offered no excuses but pledged to get the RFS back on track with a three year standard for 2014, 2015 and 2016 that they hope to have done by the end of this spring. “Obviously implementing the RFS has been very challenging for us,” he said, noting that finalizing annual rules has been a “tall order.”

Listen to all of Grundler’s remarks here: EPA's Chris Grundler at NEC 15

Grundler was the first person on the NEC program last week, following the traditional “State of the Industry” speech by Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen, who criticized EPA on several issues, including holding back expansion of 15% ethanol fuel (E15).

“E15 will never realize its full potential until there is parity with regard to EPA volatility regulations for E10 and E15,” said Dinneen in his State of the Industry speech at the 20th annual ethanol conference. “To date, the Agency has rejected our efforts to secure parity, thereby ensuring that E15 is at best a seasonal fuel, a huge disincentive for marketers to adopt E15 at their stations.”

In an interview following his remarks, Grundler said, “That’s one of the areas that Bob and I have vigorous debates on, because I’m questioning how big a factor that is in terms of the slow uptake in E15.”

Grundler said parity is not an issue in regions where reformulated gasoline is required. “That accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of our fuel supply …. including places like Chicago,” he said, adding that governors have the ability to petition EPA to remove this one pound RVP waiver for their states but they “have received no such petitions.”

Listen to Grundler’s answers to my questions here: EPA's Chris Grundler press questions

2015 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

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