Pushing back against misinformation

Members of the biofuel industry need to be vigilant in pushing back against the myths and misinformation regarding ethanol that is being perpetuated by the media and policymakers, writes Bob Dinneen. This column appears in the March issue of EPM.
By Bob Dinneen | February 15, 2016

Ethanol and the renewable fuel standard (RFS) have loomed large in this year’s presidential campaign. Those with the desire to occupy the White House have found themselves being peppered with questions about their stance on these issues. The mainstream media has portrayed ethanol and the RFS as issues which are only of interest to Iowa voters, and they frequently misrepresent important details like whether ethanol receives subsidies. But biofuel policies are not merely local issues and getting the policy details correct is critical to ensure a meaningful public discourse. 

The Renewable Fuels Association has worked to make sure the mainstream media has the correct information. But often, they’re working off a narrative that gives great deference to their important advertisers—the oil industry. But we keep plugging away, as should everyone who cares about the continued growth of the U.S. ethanol industry. 

Misinformation is not the sole bastion of the mainstream media. There’s plenty of that on Capitol Hill as well. Of course, there the narrative is shaped by politics. On committees that are dominated by lawmakers from oil states, it is a challenge to be heard through the din of talking points from the American Petroleum Institute. Indeed, in far too many cases, the hearings scheduled ostensibly to provide insight into RFS, ethanol or biofuels issues are decidedly stacked against us, with few if any voices of support from our industry.

We expect numerous congressional hearings this year and each will likely hold their own brand of political theatre. Witnesses often use congressional hearings as a chance to perpetuate myths like ethanol has increased food prices. With no pro-ethanol voices, these canards perpetuate unchallenged. 

One-sided congressional hearings do a real disservice to the political process. There’s no opportunity to tell “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. The ethanol industry has been a boon for rural economies across America, injecting a healthy $53 billion into the GDP and boosting household income by $26.7 billion. A USDA study shows that rural counties with ethanol plants can attribute 32 percent of county-wide employment growth from 2000 to 2008 to those respective biorefineries. The industry single-handedly lifts the energy and agricultural sectors together by providing hundreds of thousands of jobs and financial prosperity to ethanol producers and farmers.

Some issues that become the subject of congressional hearings are fairly complicated, such as the carbon impact of ethanol production and use. In such cases, it is even more critical that committees seek balance. Too often, they don’t. It’s easy to level a salacious accusation like corn ethanol is no better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s far more difficult to have an informed discussion about the science of climate change. But there are several recent analyses demonstrating corn ethanol produced today reduces GHG emission by at least 34 percent on average compared to fossil fuels. These views need to be represented as well. Again, too often, they’re not.

We in the biofuels industry need to be ever vigilant in pushing back against the myths and misinformation regarding ethanol that is being perpetuated by the media and policymakers. We have a positive story to tell and we need to use all of our various communications channels to make sure our voices are heard on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress.

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association