It was called “Gasahol” when I first started covering the renewable fuels sector, which shows you how long I have been doing news stories about fuel made from corn. Over the years, I have heard hundreds of negative statements, allegations, and scientific conclusions made about what we call “ethanol” today. The vast majority of these are lies. Yet, even after being proven to be false, the same untrue statements continue to be made over and over and over by those who oppose the very existence of ethanol. The drought and entrance of E-15 into the marketplace has re-energized the anti-ethanol crowd and has brought back the same old lies for yet another go round.
Now, if you are against using part of our corn supply to provide a clean, safe, renewable alternative to imported oil, that is fine but knowingly spreading misinformation does not do your cause any good and certainly calls into question your credibility. Several livestock groups fall into this category. When lies about animal agriculture are spread by HSUS and others, they demand the truth be told. Yet, in the same breath they spread untrue information about the renewable fuels sector, in order to lower the price of corn. This is what is happening today as the drought spreads across the country. Anti-ethanol groups, including livestock groups and some large producers, are spreading alarmist statements that the US will run out of corn and run short on ethanol — neither of which is likely. In addition, there are calls for the EPA to restrict the amount of corn that can be blended into ethanol, again an unnecessary action because provisions already exist to deal with a shortfall if one should occur.
The reason this really gets my goat, is that the real facts and situation is known to many of these groups and yet they continue to spout misinformation just to further their own cause. Currently there are 800 million gallons of ethanol in storage just waiting to be blended with gasoline. In addition, the current Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) allows for blenders to cut back on the amount of ethanol they blend and postpone that amount to next year. In other words, there is no need to emergency action at this point.
The market place is also hard at work rationing corn demand and ethanol production — without any help from government meddlers. High corn prices are already slowing ethanol production, reducing export demand, and reducing feed use by the livestock industry. This is what a free market does without the need for heavy-handed government intervention. This process would have taken place even if there was no renewable fuel mandate. A recent study indicated that corn prices would have declined by only 5% if the RFS was lifted.
Another lie that gets repeated so often that few question its validity is that ethanol is more costly than gasoline. The price of ethanol is readily available to anyone who has a computer and 30 seconds of time. Cash ethanol and ethanol futures are traded every day, and the price can be checked worldwide. Ethanol is currently, and is most of the time, less expensive than gasoline. Then there is the claim that ethanol will ruin your engine. Not only has this been disproven by years of rigorous testing, but also by the everyday experience of millions of ordinary motorists who use E-85 or other ethanol blends. Yet, start a conversation about ethanol and sooner or later someone will bring up their worry that it will cause their car to self-destruct.
Another misconception that has taken on the stature of an urban legend is that the government subsidizes the production of ethanol. Today there is no subsidy. Tax dollars do not go to corn farmers to grow corn, nor do they go to big ethanol companies. While it is true that the RFS mandates a certain level of ethanol be used in our fuel supply, this is necessary because the government also has granted the oil companies a monopoly on the gasoline market.
The lack of honesty and clarity in the ethanol debate has made it impossible for the American public to gain a clear understanding of the issue. This is by design, because the heart of the ethanol debate is politics, power, and profits. The ethanol industry has a better product and a brighter future, but oil companies hold the power, have the profits, and keep the politicians on a short leash. Meanwhile, motorists are filling up their cars with an overpriced, underpowered, and environmentally damaging fuel: E-10. The technology exists today to build cars that run further on a gallon of fuel and cost less to operate. But it will take redesigning our engines and changing our fuel to make that happen which is something that will be hard to do in an environment of repeated lies and distortions. This is especially true then groups with certain agendas are making alarmist claims about running out of corn and massive food price hikes. You can say it over and over; but, the truth is, we will not know what the corn supply is until after harvest in 3 months and will not know what impact the drought will have on food prices for at least 6-12 months.
by Gary Truitt