The Ethanol Lobby’s Greatest Hits: 2014 Edition

January 13, 2015

Despite overwhelming evidence that the ethanol mandate is a failed policy that harms the environment, drives up food prices and causes widespread engine damage, in 2014 the ethanol lobby continued to prove they are divorced from reality by declaring the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) an “unmitigated success.” So why does the ethanol lobby twist themselves into pretzels to prop up this disastrous policy despite watching it backfire on every front? Because they profit from it, of course.

Below we’ve rounded up just a few of the far-fetched notions put forth last year by the ethanol lobby. Enjoy!

  1. Fiction: Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (one of the most highly bankrolled corn ethanol boosters), boldly claims this is the year ‘the blend wall will fall.’ [In other words, this is the year the ethanol industry will finally be able to manipulate the market enough to overcome chronic lack of demand for its product.]

    Reality: There are a few major problems with this prediction including nonexistent consumer demand for vehicles powered by higher-ethanol blends and the lower fuel economy that ethanol delivers. Mandating the use of higher-ethanol blends won’t make a real difference in the blend wall because there just aren’t enough cars on the road that can use these higher blends. Put another way, even if E85 was being offered for sale on every street corner in America, most consumers can’t use these higher blends (and don’t want to pay the higher price per mile traveled) and therefore refiners can’t sell enough of it to help comply with the broken ethanol mandate.

    Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains that the longer Congress clings to the ethanol mandate, the worse it gets. “The political pressure on EPA to breach the blend wall – and the consequent peril to consumers – will only increase over time as RFS statutory targets ratchet up to 36 billion gallons in 2022.”

  2. Fiction: “Transportation-related GHG emissions are down 10 percent.” –RFA Report

    Reality: This is actually TRUE… but it’s in spite of ethanol, not because of it. The environmental costs of mandating ever-increasing amounts of ethanol have been extensively documented. This includes increased emissions from land-use changes necessary to grow heaps of corn destined for vehicles already reeling from its effects, and the nearly-double amount of smog-causing ozone released by burning ethanol over traditional ethanol-free fuels.

    Incidentally, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) also has some things to say on the matter. Scott Faber of EWG said “the RFS has delivered too many ‘bad’ biofuels that increase greenhouse gas emissions, pollute our air and water, destroy critical habitat for wildlife and increase food and fuel prices.” Enough said. 

  3. Fiction: “2014 was the first year in which you saw meaningful commercial production of cellulosic ethanol, realizing the goal of the RFS to evolve this industry to new technologies and new feedstocks.” –Bob Dinneen

    Reality: We’ll just let the U.S. Energy Information Administration take this one: “Cellulosic biofuels production to date is far below the targets set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007). EPA issued waivers that substantially reduced the cellulosic biofuels obligation under RFS2 for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 program years. Even that anticipated level of commercial production failed to materialize.”

    In February 2013, the EPA reduced the requirement for a second time that year—from 8.65 million gallons to zero.

    But then again, I suppose our ethanol lobby friends have to dangle the promise of cellulosic fuels to deflect from the increasingly obvious failure of corn ethanol to meet the ethanol mandate’s stated policy goals.

  4. Fiction: “Consumers will choose higher blends of ethanol. They're less expensive. They're homegrown. They're renewable.” –Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy

    Reality: This self-serving assertion is one of the ethanol lobby’s more deluded speculations. While ethanol may appear to be cheaper, it’s like buying cheap toilet paper: you only end up using more to get the job done.

    Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy per gallon than pure gasoline, which means lower fuel economy. Vehicles typically go 3 to 4 percent fewer miles per gallon on E10 and 4 to 5 percent fewer on E15 than on traditional non-ethanol gasoline. Even in vehicles specifically designed to run on E85, E85 is estimated to deliver 15 to 25 percent fewer MPGs than gasoline.

    The National Association for Convenience Stores, comprised of retailers who sell approximately 80 percent of gasoline in the U.S, stated, “the potential for actual demand [of high-ethanol blended fuels] remains small.”

  5. Fiction: “EPA’s failure to issue a final 2014 RFS rule and other ongoing administrative delays are being misconstrued by some in Congress as a sign that the program is broken. Nothing could be further from the truth.” – Jim Greenwood, Biotechnology Industry Organization President and CEO

    Reality: Recent testimony from Janet McCabe of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with administering the law, contradicts Mr. Greenwood.

    “Issuing rules every year has proven to be a significant implementation challenge, particularly in the last several years as cellulosic biofuels have continued to face challenges in scaling up to commercial production and the fuel pool has become saturated with E10, raising concerns about the E10 blend wall.”

    It couldn’t be clearer, not only has the ethanol mandate not made any headway in achieving its philosophical goals, from a practical standpoint, we have an “implementation challenge.” The mandate is so confusing and unworkable, the EPA was unable to even finalize a rule for 2014 after releasing a draft almost 13 months earlier. On that matter, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the delay “highlights that there are still significant challenges facing the RFS and underscores the need to come together and find a practical, bipartisan solution.”

Now that we know better, isn’t it time to do better? Tell the new Congress, 2015 is the year for action on the broken ethanol mandate.