Ethanol industry pushes back against negative AP story

By Holly Jessen | November 12, 2013

A flurry of press releases, fact sheets and a Nov. 11 teleconference are aiming to correct a one-sided Associated Press story that paints a negative picture of corn ethanol. Although the story wasn’t scheduled to be released until midnight Nov. 12, early copies hit the internet about a week ago, giving the ethanol industry and others a chance to preview it.

“We find it just to be flabbergasting,” said Geoff Cooper, the head of research and analysis at the Renewable Fuels Association, during a live fact check call held by Fuels America. “I think there’s probably more truth in this week’s National Enquirer than there is in the AP story.” Although RFA staff members spoke to the lead reporter of the story numerous times, it was released as planned Nov. 12, with the same negative slant against ethanol.

Also speaking during the call was Leroy Perkins, an Iowa farmer featured in the AP print story and TV segment. Perkins, also the secondary manager of the Wayne County Fair Board, said he thought the AP reporters, who visited Iowa in July, were there to learn about the fair, out-of-state landowners and water quality and wasn’t told the focus would be on ethanol. He was asked about ethanol and he told the reporters he thought ethanol was great for the environment, lowering the cost of fuel and economic development. “I think the AP folks wrote a little different story than they told me they were going to write,” he said. “On top of that, it was pretty much a one-sided story.” Fuels America released a fact check on the story that features a short video clip of Perkins, talking about his belief that what he told the AP reporters was intentionally skewed. 

The RFA released a seven-page fact sheet, outlining 16 of the most “egregious and inflammatory statements” in the article. The claims were balanced with the facts supporting ethanol and the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

Growth Energy put out a Nov. 12 press release, saying that the story was “littered with misinformation, and inaccuracies [and] read more like an opinion piece.” The story was one-sided and the author was fixated on writing an agenda piece. “The single take away from this piece is that the authors need to get a fact checker,” said Tom Buis CEO of Growth Energy. “Even the simplest of facts were misconstrued. The absence of rudimentary fact checking is truly astounding.”

Growth Energy also included a downloadable fact sheet that includes a few things the story got correct and a list of the facts it “egregiously omitted or skewed.” The fact sheet can be accessed through a link on the Growth Energy press release. 

The American Coalition for Ethanol released a statement Nov. 11, asking the AP to correct or retract its story. “At best, the AP article is lazy journalism, but at worst, it appears purposefully designed to damage the ethanol industry,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE. “There was an incredibly reckless disregard for the truth in the handiwork of this hit-piece. AP has been promoting this story by bragging about the number of reporters involved and AP’s connections in all 50 states, and yet that army of reporters missed or ignored a number of errors that could have been easily checked and avoided.”

Ron Lamberty, ACE senior vice president pointed out that they no ethanol producers were featured in the story, nor has ACE been able to find out that any were interviewed. And, the article doesn’t fit with AP’s news values and principles.  “AP’s standards say they ‘abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions’ while this story contains every one of those things,” he said. “They say ‘always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news’ and yet some of the people interviewed were misled about the subject of the article.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association also responded harshly. “The AP simply ignored the facts in favor of its predetermined narrative,” said Monte Shaw, IRFA executive director. “The AP narrative that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and ethanol has led to super high corn prices, which in turn led to bad farming practices and environmental degradation simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  Unlike this AP story would have you believe, the vast majority of Iowa’s farmers are incredible stewards of the land and work to improve every year.  Isolated reports of poor environmental practices should not divert attention from the overall positive land stewardship being implemented by Iowa’s farmers today.”