Ag Census Data Shows EWG is Full of Hot Air

Posted on: June 02, 2014 in Environment, Ethanol, Land Use

If the Environmental Working Group’s PR hacks are truly interested in combating global climate change, they ought to start by curbing their own noxious emissions of hot air. Last week, EWG released a sham “study” claiming that corn ethanol is somehow worse for the climate than gasoline, despite the fact that a number of recent peer-reviewed studies by government, academia, and private analysts clearly show first-generation ethanol significantly reduces GHG emissions relative to gasoline.

EWG apparently doesn’t debate the fact that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions when compared directly to gasoline. Indeed, it’s only when hypothetical, unverifiable indirect emissions are added into the equation that EWG suggests corn ethanol is no better than gasoline. In an attempt to make their case, EWG cherry picks questionable data points from EPA’s flawed and outdated “indirect land use change” analysis from five years ago. And where EPA data doesn’t exist to support their bias, EWG simply makes things up (e.g., there is no support for the claim that 8 million acres of “native” grassland and wetlands were converted to corn production between 2008 and 2011).

EWG’s bogus study is at odds with a growing body of science. Numerous analyses conducted since EPA published the RFS2 final rule in 2010 show that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 30–40% compared to the gasoline it is replacing—even when speculative land use change emissions are included. These peer-reviewed and published studies have been conducted by the likes of Purdue University, Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Illinois, Michigan State University, the International Food Policy Research Institute, Life Cycle Associates and others. Even the California Air Resources Board (CARB) disagrees with EWG—CARB says more than two-thirds of the GHG reductions achieved under Low Carbon Fuel Standard to date have come from conventional ethanol (despite the fact that CARB’s current framework significantly underestimates corn ethanol’s GHG benefits).

Not only does EWG’s report contradict the state of the art in lifecycle analysis, but it also contradicts data from the real world. Imagine that…EWG being out of touch with reality. Beyond the seemingly endless debate about economic models, hypothetical scenarios, and input assumptions lies an indisputable set of facts and real-world data that shows the utter fallacy of the indirect land use change hypothesis.

USDA’s newly published 2012 Agriculture Census, which is based on collection of empirical data and surveys of real farmers (not mysterious and uncertain satellite images), reveals the truth about how land is being used in the U.S. It demonstrates—quite compellingly—that long-term land use trends have not been interrupted in any meaningful way since the emergence of biofuels and passage of the RFS.

• The amount of land in farms declined 0.8% from 922.1 million acres in 2007 to 914.5 million acres in 2012. Land in farms in the 2002 Ag Census was 938.3 million acres.

• Total cropland fell 4.1% from 406.4 million acres in 2007 to 389.7 million acres in 2012. Total cropland in 2012 was a whopping 44.5 million acres lower (10% less) than the 434.2 million acres of cropland in 2002. If the RFS is causing cropland expansion and land use change, as EWG ridiculously claims, why does USDA data continue to show fewer acres dedicated to crops?

• Idle cropland and summer fallow both decreased slightly from 2007 to 2012, indicating that any “new” land coming into cultivation likely came from lands that were previously cropped—not from “pristine prairie” and “native grasslands.” Meanwhile, permanent pasture and rangeland increased 1.6% from 408.8 million acres in 2007 to 415.3 million acres in 2012.

• Contrary to EWG’s doomsday rhetoric that “forests are being chopped down” as a result of the RFS, total woodland increased 2.5% from 75.1 million acres in 2007 to 77 million acres in 2012.

• Another favorite fib some of the environmental NGOs like to tell is that corn ethanol growth has driven expansion of irrigated acres. Once again, the Ag Census shows otherwise. Irrigated acres fell 1.4% from 56.6 million to 55.8 million between 2007 and 2012, according to USDA. (Incidentally, government data also show steadily declining deforestation rates in the Amazon and a shrinking hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico since the RFS2 was enacted—so we can toss those canards out too while we’re cleaning house).

As EPA and the White House prepare to release the final 2014 RFS requirements, let’s hope they are looking at the recent Ag Census data and the most current lifecycle analyses from reputable sources—not the latest spew from EWG.

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