Advertisements recently put out in Ohio media by opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have highlighted the dissidence both within and outside of the agricultural industry with regard to the government fuel mandate.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress created the RFS in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector while reducing reliance on imported oil. It was originally authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
Leaders of the Ohio Ethanol Producers Association and the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA) recently joined forces to publicly call out the American Council for Capitol Formation (ACCF) — the group behind the disparaging ethanol ads in Ohio.
“(The ads) show an ethanol plant and argue that the Renewable Fuel Standard has harmful effects on the environment, and question the greenhouse gas benefits of corn ethanol,” said Mark Borer, president of the Ohio Ethanol Producers Association. “These claims simply aren’t backed up by the latest science.”
Borer, along with Tadd Nicholson, executive director of OCWGA, sent a letter expressing their disappointment in the ads to the ACCF, as well as former congressman Mike Oxley, an advisor to the group, who originally voted yes to the RFS in 2005.
“It’s somewhat ironic that the same week the New York Attorney General announced an investigation on Exxon Mobil and climate change that Ohio is seeing groups like ACCF and the Center for Regulatory Solutions, who’ve never been engaged in the Ohio biofuels issue before, suddenly come into our state with misleading reports and advertisements against ethanol. But you would suspect it’s not a coincidence,” said Borer, who is also the general manager at the Leipsic POET ethanol facility.
It is a pivotal month for the anti-RFS groups as they’re attempting to sway public opinion in their direction and influence the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on the topic before the verdict regarding 2014, 2015, and 2016 corn-based ethanol production volumes is scheduled to be announced in late November.
The advertisements included quotes condemning ethanol and the RFS in front of scenes of ethanol production facilities. The ads also contain a call to action for the public to “tell Congress and the Administration to end ethanol mandates.”
Funding behind the groups responsible for the highly visible ad campaign remains largely unknown, but Borer and Nicholson suspect the contribution of money from “big oil” somewhere in the background.
Speaking to the clean air issues highlighted in the ads, Angela Tin, vice president of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, also made her voice heard in favor of the RFS.
“No matter where we live in the United States, whether urban or rural, over 60% of air quality problems come from mobile sources, and the largest contributor to mobile source emissions comes from passenger vehicles that you and I drive today,” Tin said. “The U.S. Department of Energy studies today show that the placement of gasoline with ethanol reduces carbon dioxide by anywhere from 19% to 52%, and reduces harmful cancer-causing components.”
ACCF Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.
“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.
That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim.
“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”
Kemp is a strong supporter of the RFS. Its impact on both corn prices and the environment are the driving factors behind his backing.
“We had a trying year this year, but yet we still raised one of the biggest corn crops in our history,” Kemp said. “Without the RFS, we’re going to lose demand for our product and when we lose that kind of demand, we’re going to have a big surplus so obviously it’s going to hurt us all in our pocketbooks because we won’t be getting grain prices to where we can be profitable.”
Even agriculture, however, is often divided on the support of ethanol. A number of livestock producers seeing the rise in corn prices in recent years are among that group. Frank Phelps, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association president, is a cattle and grain farmer from Logan County. He is in support of the RFS, but said it is a national issue and also understands why some producers would be against it.
“It depends where you’re at. If you’re out west and that’s all you’re doing is buying corn, you want to do everything there is to keep the price of corn as low as possible,” Phelps said. “The ethanol thing got blamed for a lot of the increases in feed costs, but I think we’re finding out the drought had a lot more to do with it than anything. The prices are back down now.”
Phelps himself has seen the anti-RFS ads on television and said he “wasn’t very impressed.”
“Whenever you see big oil advertising like that, it tells you it’s getting into their pocketbooks a little bit. Let’s let everybody make a little money instead of just the oil companies,” he said.
More than cattle ranchers, some Buckeye state congressmen have also shown their opposition for the RFS. Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th congressional district is a known critic of big government and one of those opposing the RFS. He is a cosponsor of legislation to repeal the RFS in favor of letting the free market dictate what types of fuels consumers want.
Borer and Nicholson pointed to the fact that the RFS was made to give renewable fuels a boost into the supply chain, a goal that it is well on its way to accomplishing by the scheduled end of the program in 2022.
“The RFS is all about ending a monopoly. There was no doubt that before the RFS, we could make ethanol. It was efficient, it was cost effective, but it had no way of entering into the U.S. motor fuels channels because it was completely controlled by oil,” Nicholson said. “The mandate is only there to require the petroleum industry to allow other fuels inside the motor fuel chain. That’s not just ethanol, it was any other fuel — they were all blocked from entering. So there are clean air benefits, it’s less expensive, and American-made, all of these positive things. And to allow that into the market the mandate had to be there, and Congress appropriately acted.”