The Merriam-Webster definition of “dross” includes words such as “scum,” “waste,” “impurity,” “something that is base, trivial or inferior.” All of that applies to the article in last month’s “Rolling Stone” magazine The Ethanol Scam: One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles.
Peppered with choice four-letter words, the article is a re-hash of every criticism about ethanol there is, with no balance and no responsible alternative to suggest.
Where to start? Okay, let’s start with subsidies. According to the Stone, Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 — twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans.
One might ask the author if he has any clue how the federal farm programs actually work. One might also ask if he knows that in 2006, those subsides (which are mostly deficiency payments paid by the government when corn prices fall short of break-even) fell substantially. Why? Because the prices rose to the point where farmers were actually making money on the crop without government assistance.
So much of the article is blah, blah, blah – we have heard all this before and there is no way to argue with these people because they believe what they want to believe. They won’t accept that ethanol production continues to become more efficient, for example. They are convinced we will never be able to produce cellulosic ethanol to help meet the Congressional mandate of 36 billion gallons by 2012 when corn ethanol can only hope to come up with 15 billion gallons.
Stone says The remaining 21 billion gallons will have to come from advanced biofuels, most of which are currently brewed only in small-scale lab experiments. “It’s like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft,” says Dave Juday, an independent commodities consultant. “Except we don’t have hovercraft.”
And the Stone, like most ethanol critics, pooh-poohs the idea that we could “only” replace seven percent of our current energy needs with ethanol. What’s wrong with that? What is wrong with producing at least SOME of our energy here in the United States, keeping the money at home instead of sending it to countries that hate us?
The Stone completely discounts the idea that cellulosic ethanol, “even if the engineering hurdles can be overcome,” will ever become a reality for reasons like logistics and land use – and because it would mean “wrestling the future away from Big Corn.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that the corn guys will use all their lobbying muscle and political power to stall, thwart and sidetrack this revolution,” says economist C. Ford Runge.
Really? Runge obviously has not talked with anyone in the corn ethanol industry, all of whom are promoting the future of cellulosic ethanol. Growers are investing in plants with the firm idea that other feedstocks will be used in the future – and they can grow them too!
It’s unfortunate that we even have to respond to these kinds of attacks that are going on relentlessly. But, make no mistake, the reason ethanol is being attacked so viciously is BECAUSE it is good and it is right. Stand firm, make sure the facts get out there and people don’t blindly believe this kind of dross.
Incidentally, Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen did take the time and effort to respond to the Stone article with a letter to the editor, which was subsequently lambasted by the article’s author. In the middle of it all is a blogger by the name of Robert Rapier – a UK oil-industry engineer and contributor to “The Oil Drum” blog – whom Rolling Stone author Jeff Goodell used as a source for many of his claims about ethanol. Dinneen challenged the “energy blogger’s” figures and in turn has been challenged to a debate by Mr. Rapier. To my knowledge, Mr. Dinneen has yet to take up the offer, but I think he should – somebody should. We can’t sit back and be weenies and keep taking this lying down.