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Industry leaders challenge ethanol to fight back

Agriculture.com Staff 02/07/2016 @ 8:03pm

The ethanol industry may be facing tough economic times and well-organized opposition in the media, but it has no shortage of champions in Washington -- its long-standing lobbying group, the Renewable Fuels Association and a new voice, Growth Energy.

So when Fuel Ethanol Workshop kicked off its 25th annual meeting in Denver on Tuesday, it invited both groups to deliver a message that turned out to be similar: An industry that now produces 10 billion gallons of fuel a year is bound to meet resistance from an oil industry. And everyone tied to the ethanol industry needs to speak out to combat misunderstanding.

General Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, said that he wrote a study 35 years ago, after the oil shock of the early 1970s, that one day U.S. troops might be needed to protect the supply of the nation's imported oil. Referring to the wars now taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, that have cost $100 billion a year and more than 4,000 lives of U.S. service men and women, he asked, "Is there any doubt what that's related to? You don't think it's about an abstract philosophical dispute. It's about AmericaÂ’s need for imported oil."

Not only does ethanol mean a more secure fuel supply for the nation, it reduces the corruption that oil has brought to foreign nations who aren't always friendly to the United States, he said. And it can help reduce carbon emissions that threaten global warming and even more political and economic instability on the planet.

"From every aspect, what you're doing is about national security," he said.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the ethanol industry also represents economic strength for the U.S. Last year, when the nation's economy shrank by 3%, the economically challenged ethanol industry grew by 34% and added 234,000 jobs, he said.

But the industry is fighting public perceptions that aren't accurate: last year's myth that using food crops like corn to make fuel increases the cost of food, and the latest charge that ethanol has a big carbon footprint because it may increase tropical deforestation.

Clark and Dinneen said that the computer models used by the Environmental Protection Agency to make that claim are flawed. The industry needs to counter that with facts, Dinneen said, "and believe me, my friends, the facts are on our side."

Both men said that ethanol is about 60% less carbon intense than gasoline and that many factors unrelated to ethanol production are causing deforestation. And, in fact, just as the ethanol industry has ramped up, deforestation in Brazil's Amazon jungle has slowed.

Yet, Dinneen challenged the ethanol industry to put out even fewer greenhouse gases than it does now.

"Every plant manager that cares about this industry should know what their carbon footprint is," he said. In an interview later, Dinneen said that he believes all industries will be faced with lowering carbon output. "Any industry ought to be doing that if you're going to be competitive in the 21st century," he said.

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