USA Today Stoops To A New Low

  • Thursday, 21 January 2016 14:03

Now that ethanol has become a major issue in the Republican presidential race in Iowa, it was only a matter of time before the media waded in.

Much of it has centered on Sen. Ted Cruz' opposition to the RFS, which has since drawn the ire of Iowa Governor, Terry Brandstad. As a consequene of these developments came a Jan 20 editorial by USA Today, which was titled, "Get Rid Of Ethanol Mandate."

This isn't the first time USA Today has run an anti-ethanol editorial based on fictitious premises. But what is shocking is its editorial board's continued insistence on ignoring actual facts or adhering to such a low standard of journalism.

Here are some examples :

"'s more benign tailpipe emissions are more than offset by the pollution of plowing and fertilized farmland, and then shipping the corn to be processed into fuel."

In the statement above, USA Today doesn't even bother to try and cite some bogus study to back its claims. Well, we can back our claims with solid science. The reputable Argonne National Laboratory has repeatedly stated that its research and tests have shown that ethanol produces 44 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline. And this is on a life cycle basis (which includes all the plowing and fertilizer USA Today seems to be obssessed about). 

Moreover, thanks to ethanol and the RFS, an estimated 354 million metric tons of GHG emissions were reduced from 2008 - 2015, according to a recent analysis by California-based Life Cycle Associates. This is the same Life Cycle Associates that completed studies that were used to establish fuel carbon pathway intensities for California Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

About 90 million acres - roughly equal to Iowa, Indiana and New York combined - have been devoted to growing corn used in ethanol.

USA Today actually linked "90 million acres" in the statement above to a report by Iowa State University and here's where the publication achieves a new low in sub-standard journalism. The report cited does state that the area used to plant corn for the 2015/16 marketing year is 88.4 million acres. But that's for the total supply of corn in the United States, not ethanol!

In that same chart, it clearly states that corn production is estimated at 13.65 billion bushels, of which the amount used for ethanol and DDGS (the report clearly specifies DDGs) is 5.25 billion bushels. How did the editorial board of the USA Today miss this? Again, they cited this report. (In the case they'd actually want to double check their numbers, they can refer to the USDA's latest World Agricultural Supply And Demand Estimates report.)

And are they aware of what DDGs are? Are they aware that 18 lbs of every bushel of corn used for ethanol is returned as DDGs? That means, only 68 percent of a bushel is used for ethanol (assuming there are no other co-products such as corn oil and CO2). This in turn means only 26 percent of the corn produced in the current marketing year will be used for ethanol. And going by the report's estimation of 169.3 bushels of corn per acre, that translates to 20.96 million acres of land used to produce corn for ethanol. That isn't even half the size of Minnesota!

That means consumers pay more at the pump, and more at the grocery store, because so much land has been taken out of food production.

In terms of land, we'll refer USA today to the point above. But on food prices specifically, perhaps they'd like to check the latest data from the UN FAO's Food Price Index which clearly shows a correlation between crude oil prices and food prices. As for prices at the pump, on the contrary, ethanol has made it cheaper for consumers and even with record low oil prices, gas with higher blends of ethanol are still cheaper than regular unleaded gas. 

It has to be noted that the USA Today's editorial board is separate from its news staff who we believe would not have made such amateurish mistakes. Perhaps they would have noticed that Sen. Cruz' opposition to the RFS is in line with the views held by his friends in the oil industry who have donated over $1 million to him and his leadership political action committees.  

It has to also be noted that this editorial was carried alongside a pro-biofuels op-ed by our friends at Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. Still, that's no excuse to peddle fiction or practice sub-standards of journalism to support your point which is exactly what USA Today did. Maybe it's time USA Today got rid of its editorial board.