Ethanol debate heats up as EPA cuts loom

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Iowa farmer and TV star Chris Soules appears in a week-long TV ad promoting ethanol as industry insiders scramble to convince the EPA and President Obama to forego anticipated reductions of the corn-based alternative in the nation’s fuel supply.Iowa farmer and TV star Chris Soules appears in a week-long TV ad promoting ethanol as industry insiders scramble to convince the EPA and President Obama to forego anticipated reductions of the corn-based alternative in the nation’s fuel supply.

Pro-ethanol group, Growth Energy, is running a week-long TV ad promoting the controversial biofuel with help from Chris Soules, star of “The Bachelor” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

The ad is part of an ongoing media blitz exchange between ethanol supporters and those opposed to the food-based fuel.

Ethanol is facing a growing wake of criticism, mainly from environmental and petroleum interests who contend that the alternative fuel has done more harm than good.

Support for ethanol is sorely needed as the Obama administration nears a Nov. 30 deadline regarding biofuel requirements. The three-year requirements are part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), passed by Congress in 2007 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act. The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy crafting proposed RFS changes that have left ethanol supporters on edge for months.

Politicians in Washington on both sides of the aisle have voiced increasing opposition to ethanol, which many of their constituents have continually blasted over reduced gas mileage, environmental issues, impact on food prices and damage to engines and components not compatible with the fuel’s corrosive characteristics.

The EPA, whose previous fuel recommendations have propped-up the multi-billion-dollar ethanol industry, may now usher in its demise, as the agency continues to show commitment in reducing its earlier ethanol requirements.

Citing declining fuel consumption in the U.S., the EPA, according to the Washington Examiner, has cut its 2016 requirements from 22.5 billion gallons of ethanol to 17.4 billion gallons, a 22-percent drop. The EPA has also proposed that petroleum companies be given a choice on whether or not to blend ethanol with their fuels.

The notion of laissez-faire has ethanol proponents fuming.

“But the EPA’s proposal on the Renewable Fuel Standard would insert a waiver that could allow the oil industry to avoid blending low carbon fuel if they so choose,” writes Fuels America, a biofuels collective, in a Nov. 18 letter to President Obama posted on its website.

“Because oil companies control most of the nation’s gas stations, the proposed waiver would amount to the oil industry deciding the fate of the RFS.”

Environmentalists have also chimed in claiming that land usage for corn crops coupled with the high amount of energy needed to produce ethanol negates any emissions benefits the fuel has over conventional gas.

Fuels America has continued to fire back at its critics and has made sure that President Obama is aware of their concerns over their opponents’ claims.

“Our country needs a strong RFS. The RFS has reduced U.S. carbon emissions by 589.33 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 124 million cars from the road. The EPA’s proposed rules would effectively put 7.3 million cars back on the road in one year alone,” Fuels America writes in its letter to President Obama.

“Mr. President, if you intend to keep your promise to the companies that joined your American Business Act on Climate Pledge, the only way to do that is to reverse your disastrous proposal on the RFS and commit to renewable fuel.”

Adding to ethanol supporter’s woes is the fact that Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate have supported a bill dubbed the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015 (S. 577), which calls for the elimination of ethanol from the RFS.

Amid increased criticism, pro-ethanol groups have been taking out ads in major U.S. newspapers and running TV ads, such as the one featuring Soules.

In addition to his pop culture credentials, Soules is a farmer from Iowa, the nation’s top ethanol producer. According to the Iowa Corn Grower’s Association, 47 percent of the corn grown in Iowa is used to manufacture ethanol.

Soules never uses the word ethanol in the 30-second commercial posted on, but instead used the term ‘biofuels.’

“My family’s been farming here for generations, so I know about farming, but not a lot about politics,” Soules says. “And I know that biofuels have brought new life to places like this along with thousands of jobs.”

Other pro-ethanol ads have been more direct. One 15-second ad, produced by Fuels America, shows soldiers marching in a camp as text rolls across the screen stating, “Oil takes us to dangerous places around the world and puts our brave men and women in harm’s way.”

Petroleum proponents also continue to make media inroads.

Bob Greco, group director of downstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters last week on a conference call that a recent poll among 1,000 registered voters from various political parties indicates that ethanol is facing considerable public opposition.

The Harris Poll, sponsored by API, indicates that at least 75 percent or more of respondents expressed various concerns about ethanol.

“Across the political spectrum, voters are concerned about the significant damage the RFS-mandated higher ethanol blends could cause to automobiles, motorcycles and almost every type of gasoline powered engine,” Greco said.

“The public gets it. Regardless of their party affiliation, voters are concerned with mandates that try to force too much ethanol into our fuel supply.”

On Tuesday, responded to the ongoing media war between pro and anti-ethanol groups. Conflicting scientific reports are cited and ethanol groups are chided for misleading consumers.

“In dueling TV ads, foes of the federal ethanol mandate claim that it ‘doubles greenhouse gas emissions,’ while the ethanol lobby says that ‘the oil industry is lying’ and the mandate will lead to lower emissions,” Brooks Jackson writes in his report.

“In fact, the scientific jury is still out on whether requirements to blend ethanol with gasoline lead to the lower carbon emissions that Congress intended when it made those requirements law. A 2011 report by the National Research Council, which is part of the U.S. National Academies, found that it may do just the opposite, and the matter is under official review by the Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog.

“Furthermore, the ethanol lobby misleads viewers by suggesting that only ‘big oil’ is opposed to the mandate. Several environmental groups oppose it as well. So does a wide coalition that includes restaurant owners concerned about upward pressure on food prices and boat manufacturers upset at the problems that ethanol can cause in marine engines.”

When the EPA releases its final RFA recommendations on Nov. 30, President Obama is scheduled to be in France to kick-off the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. Brent Erickson, executive vice-president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, expressed concerns.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release the final rules for the 2014-2016 Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) by November 30, the starting date of the Paris conference,” Erickson writes in an article posted on “And if the final rule maintains damaging cuts to biofuel use, it could gut America’s only law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”