Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published Letter to the Editor of mine, which was in response to "Ethanol vs the World." On the same day, the Journal published yet another sarcastic screed, “How Ethanol Causes Joblessness” that ridiculed what it claims was the methodology behind a study by academic economists that showed the increased use of domestic ethanol fuel lowered gas prices by a national average of $1.09 in 2011. Responding to this attack, I submitted another editorial, which was rejected by the Editorial Features Staff. Please read said editorial in this post.
An in-depth analysis of U.S. land use patterns released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows total cropland decreased by 34 million acres from 2002 to 2007, the lowest level since USDA began collecting this data 1945. The RFA said the new report is one more addition to the mounting body of evidence that proves increased ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of total U.S. cropland or a decline in grassland and forest.
Despite several anti-biofuels groups trying to spin results, a new study released by the Geneva-based International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) strongly supports the argument that biofuels policy has had almost nothing to do with food price increases in recent years. The study found that “…US ethanol subsidies during this period (2005-2009) had little impact on consumer prices and quite modest impacts on crop prices.”
Since its very inception, the global biofuels industry has unfairly been portrayed by some ardent detractors as a sector that creates an unavoidable “food vs. fuel” choice. Luddites and Malthusians have suggested that crop-based biofuels simply can’t provide significant volumes of energy for transportation without starving the world’s poor. Unfortunately, these extreme views of biofuels have sometimes been fortified by alarmist rhetoric and doomsday sound bites from leaders of major international organizations, quasi-governmental groups, and NGOs. Against this backdrop, it was quite refreshing to see two reports in the last week that highlight the extraordinary potential of biofuels to serve as agents of rural development and enhancers of food security in developing nations.
A new pseudo-analysis published by the controversial and discredited Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons claims that biofuels expansion is increasing hunger and poverty-related health risks in developing nations. The four-page article was written by Indur Goklany, a long-time biofuels critic and contributor to the Cato Institute. Based on an ill-conceived and opaque method that misinterprets and misrepresents the findings of the World Bank and other researchers, the paper is nothing more than anti-farmer and anti-biofuel vitriol cloaked as real analysis. It simply can’t be taken seriously and it’s not at all surprising that the only publication that would ever consider publishing this piece would be the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.
Research into the commodity price spikes in 2008 have all shown that speculation was a major driver in the creation of that bubble and in its popping. Now, not three years later, are we seeing history repeat itself? Recent behavior in the corn market says yes.
In an attempt to inject some sanity and facts into the recently rekindled “food versus fuel” fervor, RFA has repeatedly highlighted the fact that in 2010/11, the U.S. ethanol industry will use just 3 percent of the global grain supply on a net basis. It just isn’t reasonable to suggest that using such a small slice of the global grain supply could be solely responsible for the recent surge in food prices—especially when the U.S. industry uses nary a bushel of food grains like rice or wheat. Nevertheless, some opponents of biofuels have challenged the legitimacy of our 3 percent figure. But we have nothing to hide. It’s really a straightforward calculation, replicable by anyone with access to USDA data, a pencil and the back of an envelope.
Lots of editorial boards have come out in support of and against ethanol. They are welcome to their opinions. What they are not welcome to is their own facts. In attacking ethanol as the Houston Chronicle did in its editorial “Food versus fuel: Rising grain costs show folly of continuing federal ethanol subsidies,” the editorial board propagated misinformation and, at some points, simply made up facts to support their predetermined opinion.
Last week, NRDC’s Nathanael Greene noted my frustration with his organization’s hasty dismissal of new Department of Energy research that shows “…minimal to zero indirect land use change was induced by use of corn for ethanol over the last decade.” NRDC immediately attempted to trash the DOE work, which was conducted by seasoned scientists at the agency’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Nathanael went so far as to suggest it “tells us nothing about ILUC.” It’s interesting that NRDC could reach such a conclusion without actually ever having seen the study (it hasn’t been published yet), without ever having laid eyes on the raw data underlying the analysis, or without ever having experimented with the methodology that ORNL used.
Since a polemic paper from environmental attorney Tim Searchinger was released in February 2008, a false notion that American ethanol production from grain was leading to Brazilian rainforest destruction has permeated discussions around ethanol's environmental contributions. Now, a team of researchers from the Department of Energy have analyzed real world data from the period of greatest American ethanol expansion and found this notion to be without merit.
Based upon Clean Air Act requirements, EPA is to consider all scientific evidence when evaluating new fuels. In the case of the E15 waiver, however, EPA completely ignored credible data submitted by RFA that demonstrated the efficacy of E15 in older vehicles. Ricardo, Inc., an internationally recognized automotive engineering firm used EPA’s own methodology to evaluate the likely effects of using E15 in vehicles model year (MY) 2000 and older. It is previously unheard of for EPA to deny a waiver request for vehicles that are beyond their EPA-determined useful life, as all MY2000 and older vehicles will be on January 1, 2011. Alas, c’est la vie. It is now up to the industry to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. We have introduced new fuels in this country before and the pathway to doing so is clear. It is a complicated process and one that will not happen overnight. Fortunately, the RFA has already begun this process.
Not ones to miss an opportunity to cricitize renewable fuels, a group led by the usual suspects of Big Oil and Big Food can come out against E12. While its unclear why such a statement is being made now, it nonetheless will not go unanswered.
Not since the commodity prices spikes of 2008 have speculators held such a prominent role in grain markets. But, as a review of the data demonstrates, the speculators are back in a big way and just waiting for the opportunity to artificially inflate corn and other commodity prices.
Despite the fact that real-world data and events have disputed the ILUC theory at every turn (e.g., grain and oilseed exports haven’t fallen off, soybean acreage hasn’t decreased, livestock feed use remains steady, Amazon deforestation is decreasing, etc., etc.), EPA’s final rule for the RFS2 institutes a severe ILUC penalty against corn ethanol and other biofuels. But there’s a major problem with how EPA derived its ILUC penalties: the agency based the penalties on modeling scenarios where each individual biofuel was isolated and volumes of that biofuel were increased while other biofuel volumes were held constant. Of course, that’s not how the RFS2 works—the regulation requires simultaneous increases of several types of biofuels. When EPA modeled a scenario in which all biofuels volumes were increased simultaneously in accordance with RFS2 requirements, the amount of land use change was half of what it was in the cases where EPA isolated individual biofuels. If EPA had used this modeling case to develop its LUC penalties, the hit to corn ethanol would have been 10.8 g CO2e/MJ, rather than EPA’s estimate of 28.4 g/MJ. Such a reduction in LUC emissions means overall lifecycle GHG emissions for 2022 average corn ethanol would be 38% less than baseline gasoline emissions, rather than the 21% estimate finalized by EPA.
For years now, we have heard environmentalists and some in the government tell us that gasoline production and oil use don't have indirect greenhouse gas emissions. It is only biofuels like ethanol, we have been told, that must suffer penalties for these so-called indirect emissions. According the a new groundbreaking report to be published in Environmental Science, requiring our military to protect the free flow of oil comes with environmental consequences. And those impacts are potentially HUGE.
Total ethanol exports for May fell 58% from April’s totals. Compared to March and April total exports of 48.3 million gallons and 40.8 million gallons, U.S. producers exported only 17.1 million gallons in the month of May. Still, May exports were well above the five-year monthly average. Further, through the first five months of 2010, the U.S. has exported 25% more product than in the entire 2009 calendar year.
This morning USDA’s July WASDE report was released. While it made some changes to the corn supply-demand estimates, it is likely that supply will get a boost with a larger yield estimate likely next month. This morning's report suggests corn producers are still on track for a record crop in 2010. If the corn crop can avoid significant stress during pollination, we should be looking at another record or near-record average yield. But harvest is still several months away and nothing is certain until the crop is in the bins. Read more to see key facts related to today's report.
Every week or so, Joel Velasco of UNICA posts a new entry to UNICA's new Sweeter Alternative “blog”. This "blog" appears to more of a non-blog as readers don’t have any opportunity to express their views or respond to the slanted opinions served up by UNICA. In a June 28 post, RFA was accused of "cherry picking" data for a recent presentation to the House Ag Committee that shows Brazil’s increased ethanol output over the past decade has come primarily through expansion of the land area dedicated to growing sugarcane. Since there’s no opportunity for the public to comment on UNICA’s web site, I will address the "cherry picking" allegations here.
Opponents of biofuels and agriculture are again dredging up false allegations about the environmental impacts of increasing grain and ethanol production, specifially suggesting that expanded grain and ethanol production in the Midwest is leading to a larger hypoxic area, ("dead zone") in the Gulf of Mexico. The RFA has put together a document discussing the facts regarding these issues.
…is the trend in American ethanol production. In recently released research from Dr. Steffen Mueller from the University of Illinois at Chicago, production of ethanol at the nation’s dry mills has seen dramatic improvements in efficiencies.