Bob Dinneen and the Ethanol Industry Ready to Rumble

Bob Dinneen and the Ethanol Industry Ready to Rumble

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It seems like we’ve panicked the dirty ethanol lobby — and that’s a good thing.

Bob Dinneen, the president of the Renewable Fuels Association, mentioned us in an article he wrote for the May issue of Ethanol Producer magazine entitled “Let the Fight Begin”:

“Let me be clear, the extensive war chests and influence of Big Oil, Big Food, Big Livestock and Big Environmentalists are all aligned to stand in our way. They have already unleashed their hounds and will stop at nothing to prevent this legislation from becoming law.  A group of ethanol naysayers, including the National Petroleum and Refiners Association, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resource Defense Council, American Meat Institute, and our friends at the Grocery Manufacturers, came out swinging, [using] phrases like ‘dirty corn ethanol’ and ‘throwing good money after bad’ in an attempt to group ethanol in with other technologies that have lost favor on Capitol Hill.”


“This kind of firebrand speech is the last resort when facts do not support your position. But make no mistake, this is a formidable opposition with deep pockets and an even deeper commitment to the status quo.”

Clearly, Dineen doesn’t like phrases like “dirty corn ethanol” and “throwing good money after bad.” But these assessments of corn ethanol’s harmful environmental impacts and the wastefulness of taxpayer subsidies are accurate, and it’s way over the top to characterize them as “firebrand rhetoric.”

First up, corn ethanol is dirty. Growing corn leads to extensive use of resources and pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides and petroleum-based fertilizer. These pollutants run off the fields and create water pollution so damaging, that it creates aquatic “dead zones”. The picture to the right is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River’s pollution load spills into the ocean.  The water in these dead zones cannot support life due to its pollutant load. Studies predict that this dead zone will expand if corn production is increased to make ethanol. These pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers also end up in our drinking water and in our bodies. Pesticide exposure increases cancer[1], and other health risks.
But “dirty” doesn’t just describe corn cultivation, it applies to ethanol production as well. Producing ethanol from corn is also wasteful. It takes three to four gallons of water to make just one gallon of ethanol. And that doesn’t include the water used in irrigating the corn. In addition, the ethanol manufacturing process is often powered with fossil fuels.

That’s not all.

Corn ethanol deserves the moniker “dirty” because it actually ends up creating more carbon emissions than the fossil fuels it’s supposed to replace. In fact, the EPA found that greenhouse gas emissions from corn ethanol can be up to 66 percent more than those from conventional gas. Other scientific papers confirm this type of analysis. Ethanol can’t be transported in existing gas pipelines without costly modifications, and thus needs to be trucked everywhere, further increasing its carbon footprint. It also damages engines, particularly smaller engines like those in marine vessels and older cars.

Okay, onto the second phrase Dineen hyperventilated about: “Throwing good money after bad.”  We, the U.S. taxpayers, subsidize the ethanol industry with billions of dollars every year. Bob Dinneen and the ethanol industry are lobbying hard to renew a $5 billion and growing annual ethanol subsidy that expires at the end of this year.  If tax credits are continued, a Friends of the Earth study found that we taxpayers could end up subsidizing the biofuels industry with cumulative giveaways worth $400 billion by 2022.

The U.S. ethanol industry also has other help from the government: a tariff on foreign-produced ethanol, and an ethanol producer subsidy. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that ethanol production has a marginal, if any, effect on our gasoline supply.  Not to mention, corn ethanol production is energy inefficient. Clearly, corn ethanol isn’t the answer. We’re proud to be part of what Dineen calls a “cacophony of castigators” calling out such waste and pollution.

Dineen also provoked a chuckle when he railed against the “war chests” of supposedly deep-pocketed “Big Environmentalists.” If only we had the funding that Dineen’s partner ethanol group Growth Energy had to fund a recent $2.5 million barrage of TV ads attempting to greenwash ethanol. And Dineen’s own organization, the  Renewable Fuels Association, along with Growth Energy, spent over $1.5 million on lobbying in 2009. We wish we had that kind of money!

Dineen and other lobbyist fat cats aren’t likely to let up on their misleading, win-at-all-costs rehetoric, but they are still fighting a losing battle. At the end of the day, corn ethanol is dirty, inefficient and costly to taxpayers, and ethanol subsidies are an obvious place where lawmakers seeking to cut the deficit can look for more money. The U.S. has been subsidizing the ethanol industry for over 30 years. It’s time for the industry to sink or swim on its own.

[1] Morrison, Howard; Savitz, David; Semeniciw, Robert; Hulka, Barbara; Mao, Yang; Morison, Diedre; Wigle, Don. “Farming and Prostate Cancer Mortality.” American Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 137, No. 3: 270-280