"The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America's push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply. ... It wasn't supposed to be this way."
So begins a recent report by the Associated Press that has the ethanol industry on the defensive. (Click here to read the full report.)
The report, released for print publication Nov. 12, criticizes the ethanol industry as being damaging to the environment and points a finger at the Obama administration for supporting ethanol as a form of green energy. The AP report says that more farmers are growing corn for ethanol, and thus are plowing up conservation land and virgin prairies while the nitrogen runoff from fertilizer is polluting streams.
The report has, understandably, drawn strong reactions from the ethanol industry. The report prompted the Renewable Fuels Association to put together a fact sheet refuting many of the claims made by the Associated Press. And Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Des Moines Register that "there are a number of inaccuracies and errors in that article."
"Let’s talk about the suggestion that we have 5 million fewer acres in conservation than when I became secretary," Vilsack told the Register. "That is not true."
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But now, some who were quoted in the AP report are saying that they were misled and misrepresented.
Leroy Perkins, a Wayne County, Iowa, farmer who is featured in the report, said he was led to believe that the story would be about absentee landowners and the economic impact they have on his home county.
"My understanding was they were going to touch on the water issues with our Rathburn Lake watershed, but they were leaning more, in Wayne County, toward the absentee landlowners that were out of state," he told Fuels America, a renewable fuels advocacy coalition.
"Not once was I led to believe that they were going to do a wham-bang on ethanol," Perkins said. "And so as I read this, I’m wondering, I’m looking at it saying, where are the oil companies in this?"
Watch the full interview with Perkins:
Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, told AgriTalk host Mike Adams, that he was disappointed in the report.
"We spent a fair amount of time with this reporter trying to provide her with the facts and quite frankly, she didn't want to be persuaded by the facts. She ignored the facts," he said.
Listen to Dinneen's full reaction on AgriTalk:
The AP report claims that farmers have "filled in wetlands" and "plowed into pristine prairies" in order to grow more corn for ethanol. Dinneen contends that "It's just not true."
"There's no question that there has been increased corn production," Dinneen said, but added that much of that production growth has come from increased yields and switching crop acres away from less profitable crops. "But those are marketplace responses that really do not have any kind of environmental impact."
"The bottom line is, the Renewable Fuel Standard actually imposes a specific limit on the amount of land that can be used to produce renewable fuels, and we've never come close to that limit," he said.
Dinneen said he thought the AP story was one-sided.
"You absolutely need to have, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story when evaluating this piece of nonsense," he said.
Perkins, meanwhile, found the lack of representatives from the oil industry in the AP report a bit suspect. He said the oil industry has a hard enough time keeping up with production with the 10% ethanol mandate.
"I believe that ethanol is a wonderful product because it doesn't harm the environment itself. I love ethanol, always have. But what they don't say here is that if we lose that 10% ethanol, and go back to our regular petroleum, how are we going to produce that extra 10%? They can't do it now with 10% ethanol."
"You can't look at this in a vacuum. If you don't have ethanol, what are you going to have? More oil," he said.