An Associated Press report published prematurely last week and quickly pulled back takes ethanol to task for its impact on conservation lands and the environment. The leaked story, which AP says will be republished Tuesday, pulled few punches concerning the biofuel that has increased demand for corn production. National Journal obtained a copy from a lobbyist.
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitats, and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades, and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers, and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.
The story wasn’t out for long, but it has caused a firestorm of backlash from biofuels makers and corn producers upset at how they are portrayed. “There’s probably more truth in this week’s National Enquirer than there is in the AP story,” said the Renewable Fuels Association’s Geoff Cooper on a Monday press call. Also featured on the call was Iowa farmer Leroy Perkins, a source in the AP report who said that he was deceived about the nature of the story and that his remarks were taken out of context.
“Cropland is not expanding in the United States — certainly not expanding because of the RFS,” Cooper said, referring to the federal renewable-fuel standard that mandates an increasing amount of biofuels each year to be blended with the nation’s gasoline supply. Cooper insisted that corn-fueled destruction of wetlands “just isn’t happening.”
The American Coalition for Ethanol chimed in as well. “At best, the AP article is lazy journalism, but at worst, it appears purposefully designed to damage the ethanol industry,” ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said in a release. “There was an incredibly reckless disregard for the truth in the handiwork of this hit-piece.”
AP says the story was accidentally published early when it was sent to member publications. “This was just a misfire,” said Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, noting that several yet-to-be-released segments of the report will come out Tuesday as well. He denied allegations that the factual basis of the story is in question and speculation that accuracy concerns led to it being pulled. “This was very, very, very carefully reported,” Colford said, and the republished version will run with only a “fix or two, a rephrasing here or there.” He also took aim at Perkins, who he said “actually sat for hours of interviews with the AP, and he was certainly aware … of AP’s questions about ethanol.” Perkins even helped arrange a flyover for AP to get an eye-in-the-sky look, Colford said.
Meanwhile, The Hill notes that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, an Iowa native and ethanol advocate, would not say if the fuel is beneficial for the climate. “I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument,” Vilsack told the AP.
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Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.