Ethanol Producers Fume Over Upcoming Wire Story

Corn crops have become a flashpoint of debate between biofuels makers and the AP, which says expanded demand has hurt the land and the environment.
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Nov. 11, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

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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