Lies and Big Oil Fiction

The Renewable Fuels Association's View from the Hill column in the November EPM: Biofuel critics will continue to distort the truth to fit their own narrative, but you can bet the ethanol industry will hit back with the truth each and every time.
By Bob Dinneen | October 19, 2016

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Ethanol is singularly responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf or the destruction of bee pollinator habitats or is destroying wetlands across America or is a dirtier fuel than gasoline. Those are just some of the lies making the rounds on Capitol Hill these days. None of them are true, of course, but they are the fodder our critics seize upon to fuel the campaign against us. At one point this year, I actually read that the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and ethanol were harming the food industry by driving down prices. Yes, after years of being blamed for driving up the price of food, we’re now also responsible for their lost profits as food prices fall. Unbelievable.

As we near the close of the 114th Congress, I thought I would share some of the more outrageous fallacies used by ethanol’s critics on Capitol Hill to sow the seeds of doubt and undermine support for the RFS.

Falsehood No. 1—Ethanol will ruin boats. Early in this Congress, the American Petroleum Institute launched a campaign to warn consumers about the RFS. One TV ad featured a family of boaters storming into the Capitol, dripping wet from having been stranded by a failed engine in the Potomac River, asking Congress to repeal the RFS because it was damaging their boat’s engine. The oil group also released a series of drawings, ridiculing boaters who filled up using ethanol blends.

API has trotted out this campaign numerous times since then, and each and every time, the Renewable Fuels Association has hit back with facts. An RFA ad campaign notes that for nearly 30 years, 10 percent ethanol has been used in all types of marine engines and the fuel blend is approved for use by all major marine engine manufacturers, including Honda, Mercury Marine, Kawasaki and Johnson Evinrude. As a bonus, ethanol’s higher octane ratings increase engine performance, while being the lowest-cost, cleanest-burning fuel on the planet.

Falsehood No. 2—Ethanol’s carbon footprint is worse than petroleum’s. This falsehood recently picked up steam after the release of a study funded by API and conducted by University of Michigan Energy Institute researchers, including longtime biofuels critic John DeCicco. The study’s methodology only examined carbon emissions at the tailpipe without accounting for the origins of the carbon embedded in the fuel. Thus, the study showed no CO2 benefit from ethanol.

As RFA explained, here’s the difference: In the case of ethanol, the CO2 released at the tailpipe was recently in the atmosphere and is simply returning to that origin—the use of biomass for energy recycles atmospheric carbon as part of a relatively rapid process. By contrast, the use of fossil fuels adds to atmospheric CO2 by emitting carbon that was previously sequestered deep underground for millions of years. When coal, oil, natural gas or other fossil fuels are burned, new carbon is introduced into the atmosphere. It is this new carbon that is contributing to climate change.

Falsehood No. 3: The blend wall—The U.S. gasoline market cannot absorb more than 9.7 percent ethanol. In May, biofuel critics Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, Peter Welch, D-Vt., Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. and Jim Costa, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 5180, which would cap ethanol blends in the U.S. transportation pool to no more than 9.7 percent by volume. It’s a rather odd and precise number without any logic, other than it’s the percentage the oil companies want. 

Again, the RFA hit back, noting in ads that ethanol already exceeds 10 percent of the fuel mix in at least 22 states, including California, Minnesota and South Dakota, where consumers have access to higher blends such as E15 and E85. Higher ethanol blends have seen rapid growth in recent years due to steady industry investment in an effort to provide more choice at the pump. By adopting Big Oil’s biofuel limits, the bill would not just halt ethanol’s growth in providing a more affordable, high-octane source of fuel to consumers, it would stem that progress.

Biofuel critics will continue to distort the truth to fit their own narrative, but you can bet the ethanol industry will hit back with the truth each and every time.

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association