Bloomberg Article More Fiction Than Fact

  • Wednesday, 27 July 2016 12:35

It's been a while since we've had ethanol smeared by some sub-par journalism.

The latest entry into the canon of anti-ethanol journalism comes courtesy of Bloomberg in this apocalyptically-titled piece, "As Corn Devours U.S. Prairies, Greens Reconsider Ethanol Mandate."   

It begins with the following : "Environmentalists who once championed biofuels as a way to cut pollution are now turning against a U.S. program that puts renewable fuels in cars, citing higher-than-expected carbon dioxide emissions and reduced wildlife habitat."

Pretty scary stuff, especially the part about higher-than-expected CO2 emissions. 

Except no where in the article - which spans 1,177 words - does it actually say how much more CO2 has been emitted as a result of ethanol. This, mind you, from an article that liberally quotes ethanol opponents. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that claiming ethanol has increased CO2 emissions is nothing short of science fiction. 

Had the story focused on facts it would have said that ethanol, according to the Argonne National Laboratory, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of 44 percent on a lifecycle basis.

Or it would have said that California's Life Cycle Associates concluded that the RFS reduced GHG emission by 354 million metric tons from 2008 to 2015. That is equivalent of removing annual emissions from 74 million cars. By the way. this is the same Life Cycle Associates which completed studies that were used to establish fuel carbon pathway intensitites for California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

It could have also cited Dr Steffan Mueller from the University of Illinois. His analysis shows that E10 reduces 712,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually in Minnesota. If E15 became the new standard in Minnesota, annual emission reductions would total 1.07 million metric tons. This is the equivalent of removing 225,895 vehicles a year.

Instead, the story cites factless sound bites from known anti-ethanol proponents such as Rep. Peter Welch, John DeCicco from the University of Michigan, the Environmental Working Group, the National Wildlife Federation and Friends of the Earth.

In terms of increasing land usage, the story said : "And nationwide, farmers grew corn on 88 million acres in 2015 - a 7.6 percent increase since 2005, when Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard."

Yes, corn acreage has increased in 10 years but the article fails to mention that from 2014 to 2015 corn acreage fell 2.8 percent to 88 million acres from 90.6 million acres.

Now, the USDA estimates corn acreage for the 2016/17 marketing year to increase to 93.6 million acres. But this is in response to an increase in demand for feed (up 6.7 percent), not just ethanol. In fact, as the USDA points out, the amount of corn used for ethanol is only projected to increase by 1.4 percent in the 2016/17 marketing year. To suggest ethanol is driving up corn acreage is simply illogical. 

For the record, the amount of corn used for ethanol is 38 percent of total corn production. But 18 lbs of every bushel of corn is returned as DDGs - a high protein animal feed. As such, only 68 percent of a bushel of corn is used for ethanol (assuming there are no other co-products such as corn oil and CO2). Thus, only 25 percent of total corn production in the 2016/17 marketing year will be used for ethanol. In the 2015/16 marketing year it was - wait for it - 26 percent. 

It shouldn't be surprising that such data was omitted from the article. After all, when you rely on dubious sources, you're bound to arrive at dubious conclusions. And clearly, performing any sort of research was out of the question for the article's author. Was there some sort of bias? Consider this, of the 10 sources cited for the story, only two were pro-biofuels. Seven were from individuals that are vehemently anti-ethanol. The 10th source was an industry analyst who gave a neutral observation. 

Last but not least, if you're going to quote Rep. Peter Welch on the RFS, you should at least mention that he signed on an anti-RFS letter to the EPA that was actually written by the oil lobby. After all, it was Bloomberg that broke the story.