• Mar 25, 2013
Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has made its case against Big Oil getting its way, stopping E15 and fulfilling the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Now, Bob Dineen, president and CEO of RFA, is pleading with environmentalists to stay away from Big Oil and to support biofuels.

With fossil fuel the major source of greenhouse gas emissions from powering vehicles, ethanol is the logical substitute, Dineen writes in a guest column for The Hill. There's no other alternative fuel "at scale today that matches ethanol's ability to improve overall environmental quality," Dineen wrote.

No other alternative fuel "matches ethanol's ability to improve overall environmental quality."

So how could some environmentalists "gang up on American ethanol" and side with Big Oil against the biofuel, when ethanol is both renewable and much cleaner than gasoline? Dineen is particularly perturbed with Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, for lambasting biofuels in his own recent blog post on The Hill.

Faber would like to see changes made to the federal RFS biofuels mandate, and criticized RFS along with efforts to increase gasoline to 15 percent ethanol (E15). Dineen found Faber's arguments confusing and contradictory – for backing up Big Oil's grain ethanol attack; for stating that RFS is failing to bring cellulosic ethanol to market; and that there's a costly infrastructure investment needed for fuel pumps and flex-fuel vehicles.

While Faber represents an environmental group, there's more to the story behind the scenes, according to Dineen. Prior to the Environmental Working Group, Faber was vice president for federal affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. That trade association has been working with the American Petroleum Institute to repeal RFS.

Dineen thinks that there is hope for environmentalists who aren't being duped by these powerful lobbying groups. "For the great majority of rank-and-file environmentalists who aren't beholden to Big Oil or Big Food, ethanol's environmental advantages over gasoline are clear and compelling," he writes. Do his words strike a chord?


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 31 Comments
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have no problems with ethanol... that's produced from non-food. Ferinstance, when you harvest a corn plant, only a little of it is actually corn. Most of it is stalks, the corn cob, etc. The same can be said of wheat-- you have the straw. This doesn't lower food prices (no edible corn/wheat/etc) are used, and uses no additional land (the existing fields). It does take processes far more difficult than those for neutral spirits.
      Chris M
      • 1 Year Ago
      An article in the local paper mentioned a California company that plans to make ethanol from sugar beets. The advantages are: Higher yield per acre than corn, less water needed, less fertilizer needed, less pesticides needed, and it fits in well with crop rotation for soy and cotton. In the mild California climate, sugar beets can be grown as a winter crop.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ethanol is just a stepping stone to hydrogen production. Wait until they start using microbes that produce hydrogen gas...
        Jim1961
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        Where do the microbes get their energy?
          Chris M
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jim1961
          From food, of course. So the real question is: is it better to produce an easily stored and versatile fuel like Ethanol, or a bulky difficult to store fuel like H2? Either way it's going to use land that could have been used for food crops - or maybe just use fallow land that isn't being used at the moment.
      purrpullberra
      • 1 Year Ago
      Big oil has a big bad lobby and so does the mainstream biofuel industry, so do grocers, duh, but there are some fundamental truths surrounding this: using food crops and good crop land to 'grow' 'gas' is going to hurt food availability and pricing making large scale production politically impossible, and using the leftovers isn't producing enough to make much difference, yet. In a world where many go hungry turning food into fuel is going to cause some ugly problems. I for one want as many people to starve to death ASAP to ease the pressure on the planet and it's resources but my view unfortunately doesn't prevail so I stand by my statement of fact. Switchgrass, agricultural leftovers, algae, wind, hydro, solar, nuclear are all going to be needed until the miracle of nuclear fission saves us. Big oil is never right, they are pathological, lying, two-faced, powerful and rich manipulators who will do anything to keep their money and power. But like a broken analog clock, Big Oil is an old, anachronistic symbol that occasionally, accidentally says something true. There are real issues with many current biofuels that mean they are not a perfect or complete answer now or ever. They can be a small part of the solution but not as the industry currently stands. Environmentalists are not responsible for these problems and they don't control any of this.
      Jim1961
      • 1 Year Ago
      The production of biofuels requires large tracts of land. Rain forests are being cut down to grow soybeans for biodiesel. Loss of habitat is the number one cause of species extinction. The current rate of species extinction, about 50,000 per year, has not been this high since the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. Biofuels are WORSE for the environment than fossil fuels, in my opinion.
        neemcavoy
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim1961
        your opinion is sadly uninformed. there are multitude ways to produce ethanol without habitat loss. On the other hand, fossil fuels have consistently proven to be an environmental catastrophy
        omni007
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim1961
        When gasoline is $10 a gallon here, we will all be happy to get a gallon of ethanol. But it'll be expensive, too. It'll be too late.
        omni007
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jim1961
        I'm guessing that even before gasoline reaches $10 a gallon, the majority of Americans will not care about species extinction, rain forests, or anything environmental. They'll do *anything* to get some fuel, any fuel, into the tank.
          omni007
          • 1 Year Ago
          @omni007
          You're not alarmist for pointing out the obvious. I don't know how many people worldwide are concerned about mass extinctions, but I can tell you their opinions are not outweighing the power of those whose actions are bringing us closer to such extinctions.
          Jim1961
          • 1 Year Ago
          @omni007
          If the majority of people are unconcerned about mass extinction all life on Earth is in danger. We are currently experiencing a mass extinction of life on Earth. You can call me an alarmist. Anyone who is not alarmed isn't paying attention.
      brotherkenny4
      • 1 Year Ago
      The return of crop residues to the soil is usually considered a more sustainable farming method. However, certain residues are already gathered and available in reasonable quantities, and crops like switch grass do grow in relatively marginal soils. We have this notion that there must be one way of doing things and that we all must follow the same path. I think that's a natural consequence of our educational system preparing us to be good citizens, which really means making us good followers. What is it they say, "Lead, Follow, or get out of the way". Well I would like to add one more item to this bumper sticker philosophy. "Lead, follow, get out of the way, or spend your life aggravating the morons that think wisdom can be found in simplistic one liners".
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      If it's so great, sell it on the market openly, don't ask for tons of subsidies, and we'll see how it goes. Don't force it into my tank at capitol hill.
        EZEE
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Word up homie. I think of the lines and hype prior to any iPhone or iPad launch. No lobbyists, no subsidy, so special interest group. Just...want want want want want. The funny thing is, on the iPhone, the profit margin is roughly 2-3 times greater than the oil companies get, and on the iPad, it is 3 - 4 times the profit margin. And we are happy to pay it.
        neemcavoy
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        I agree IF all subsidies for fossil fuels are eliminated as well.
        carney373
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Market success is not the only measure of virtue or worth. Subsidies are not a reason to automatically oppose or disdain a product that gets them. They can be a useful and necessary tool to help along an option that is better for any of various reasons - in this case for instance because of the environment, the economy, and our national security. Even Adam Smith supported subsidies for sail cloth to prevent Britain being dependent on its enemies for that era's source of strategically vital transportation motive power.
      Electron
      • 1 Year Ago
      Another ugly chapter in the war on ethanol. I wonder if RFA can hold out against the financial and political might of Big Oil in the long run. They have all sorts of ways to make it people worth their while to sing their song. Disgusting really.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Keep ethanol around as an oxygenation additive. But that is it. They've had 30 years to make it work and it still doesn't work except for sugar cane ethanol. PV & EV combo work better.
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        PV & EV is a great combo. The only problem is that there are something like a billion gas cars on the road globally today that are not EVs and cannot get any fuel from PVs. And next year there will be millions of more gas cars built, and millions of gas cars will continue to be built for decades. Not my personal choice, but it is reality. What solution do you have for all these gas vehicles... No solution. Got it.
        Ryan
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        I think PV and EV combos are what we should be pushing too. But, E85 or E100 might be good for a plug-in hybrid for traveling the long distances. And yes, sugar cane, switch grass, along with some other types of fast growing plants might not be a bad transition fuel. But we do have to do a fair and scientific comparison between foreign oil and domestic ethanol and what happens to the economy and environment if we make cars/trucks use it.
        carney373
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        You claim "they've had 30 years around to make it work" - but the problem is that cars can't USE ethanol except as a minor ingredient in gasoline. If we made full flex fuel capability a required standard feature in new cars, like seat belts, THEN you could make a case that ethanol was being given a fair shot. But no matter how good a fuel is, if cars can't use it, it won't sell.
        Gabbo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        What an insipid remark .....cellulosic ethanol is just coming into it's own, and you want to blow it off ?
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      1. Grow food for people on cropland. 2. Put up wind turbines to generate renewable power. 3. Put solar panels on the barns.
      Gabbo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Many cellulosic crops ( like switchgrass ) can be grown on land that is not suitable for food crops; many also do not require fertilization and can produce multiple harvests per year. There is no pleasing you environmental wacko's.
        paulwesterberg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Gabbo
        Ok, but can you get more energy out of switchgrass by forming it into pellets and burning it in stoves(80% efficient) for winter heat or do you get more energy out by converting it to ethanol and burning it in an internal combustion engine which converts only 25% of the energy into actual motion.
          neemcavoy
          • 1 Year Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          unfortunately, pellet stoves are an unacceptable source of soot.
          Ryan
          • 1 Year Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          Does a stove move around a city?
          brian
          • 1 Year Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          raw materials for pellet stoves, eg the pellets can be made from ground clutter waste leftover from logging, houses and other wood structures which are torn down and the wood ground up , any scrap non pressure treated lumber , tree stumps , and other waste wood sources. Besides if its possible to cultivate enough switchgrass do both the fuel pellets and the ethanol or butanol for that matter.
          brian
          • 1 Year Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          raw materials for pellet stoves, eg the pellets can be made from ground clutter waste leftover from logging, houses and other wood structures which are torn down and the wood ground up , any scrap non pressure treated lumber , tree stumps , and other waste wood sources. Besides if its possible to cultivate enough switchgrass do both the fuel pellets and the ethanol or butanol for that matter.
      carney373
      • 1 Year Ago
      "there's a costly infrastructure investment needed for fuel pumps and flex-fuel vehicles." For the pumps, perhaps. But that cost needs to be compared to the broader cost to the economy of remaining locked in to oil, which saw a 1,400% price increase from 1999 to 2008 that crashed our economy and wiped out trillions in wealth. But for the vehicles? The differences between a gasoline-only vehicle and a flex fuel vehicle are physically and economically trivial. At most, adding alcohol fuel compatibility to a gasoline car model would cost an automaker $130 per new car at the factory. And as little as 41 cents. There's no legitimate reason why every automaker couldn't make full flex fuel capability an across the board standard feature in all its cars, like seat belts, starting the very next model year.
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