NPR Exposes Greenwashing, By Example

Some illusions are relatively harmless when they come crashing down.  Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy fit in this category.  Others, like the faith I once had in our government and the education I received in school, sting a bit more when the reality of the situation sets in.

NPR, National Public Radio, was one of the last institutions in this country where I expected to encounter pointed propaganda instead of factual reporting.  But in a recent article about ethanol, here’s what I found.

Ethanol Gets A Boost; Will It Return The Favor?

..Kovarik, who’s also a professor at Radford University, says that ethanol is, first and foremost, a way to make corn more valuable. More than a century ago, Henry Ford built cars to run on it, with just that in mind.

“So, you could replace the transportation income that farmers used to have by [their] growing the fuel for the cars, instead of growing horses and feed.”

Prohibition killed that idea, but the farm crisis, oil shocks and environmental concerns have revived it. Lawmakers gave companies a tax credit — currently 45 cents a gallon, more than $5 billion a year — for blending ethanol with gasoline.

The EPA forces fuel blenders to use billions of gallons of ethanol a year.  And there’s also a high tariff on imports — giving ethanol triple support. But according to the ethanol industry ads, the payback is huge.

One spot claims that ethanol is responsible for “12 billion gallons of clean, renewable American energy a year, fueling the economy, and nearly 400,000 jobs.”

But, says David Swenson of Iowa State University: “Nationwide, the number of ethanol jobs isn’t as many as people would think it was. It’s probably in the territory of 30,000 to 35,000.”

Swenson doesn’t count farm jobs in his equation. But he does say that ethanol spreads money across the Midwest — and even all the way back to Washington, D.C., in a way.

Ethanol uses a lot of corn, which makes it, and other row crops, more valuable.

These days, grain never gets cheap enough to trigger federal price support payments to farmers — something that used to happen frequently. But “Federal support for ethanol effectively replaces other farm subsidies” doesn’t really make a great slogan.

Instead, the industry’s ad uses this motto: “Turning everyday, abundant, renewable ingredients into clean, sustainable energy.”

Farmers now grow a lot more corn, but ethanol’s voracious appetite keeps supply tight and prices high. Ethanol does burn much cleaner than gasoline — creating no soot — but producing it creates pollution and sucks up lots of water, which muddies the environmental benefit…

While this article may sound informative and well-researched to the untrained eye, having researched these same topics for the past several years left me in awe at the level of misinformation we are dealing with here.  For starters, Henry Ford actually did plan on using domestically-grown crops to build and fuel the automobiles of the future.  And prohibition was responsible for killing this dream, but it wasn’t alcohol prohibition–it was the prohibition of industrial hemp which made it impossible to “grow our transportation.”  A minor fact omitted in the above article,  but who wouldn’t want to associate themselves with Henry Ford and energy independence?

A much more well informed article was found at the Washington Post:

More ethanol on roads, but trouble in garages?

..But critics say a 15 percent ethanol blend would shorten engine life more and make equipment prone to fuel leaks and fire hazards. Apart from causing engines to run hotter, ethanol fuel eats away at rubber components.

“E15 is going to make fuel lines on older equipment turn to mush a lot faster,” Matuskey said. “You’ve got spillage and environmental issues as well as fire and safety issues.”

Prentiss Searles of the American Petroleum Institute said, “Having seals fail on your backpack blower isn’t a good thing, because you’ve got a gas tank sitting on your back.”

“The bigger issue is the pipes from the tanks to the dispensers and the materials used to connect them, the gaskets, glues and seals,” he said. As with replacing underground storage tanks, “you would have to crack concrete to get to them. Add a decimal point to the price.”

With the extended waiver, E15 is “more likely to be assimilated into the marketplace, and mis-fueling will be more likely,” Kiser said. And while the EPA may permit E15 in older vehicles, using the fuel might still void the manufacturer’s warranty, he said. He predicted “a challenge for the consumer.”

Congress is considering a bill that would shield gas retailers from liability suits for mis-fueled engines…


While all of this is beyond what those invested in corn want you to hear, it doesn’t even touch on what myself and a growing list of other researchers feel is the much bigger problem:  corn ethanol is anything but environmentally-friendly fuel, which is actually a net energy sink dependent on massive amounts of foreign petroleum.  Even Al Gore has reversed his stance on this issue, but so far he obviously has not convinced those still entangled in the labyrinth of our federal government.

U.S. corn ethanol “was not a good policy”-Gore

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was “not a good policy”, weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. blending tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline. The credits are up for renewal on Dec. 31.

Total U.S. ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Industry, which said biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy…


Now that Republican Ron Paul has emerged as an influential leader going into 2011, perhaps Gore, NPR and others will finally feel it is time to come forward in support of industrial hemp.  After all, the Canadian government already has:

Government of Canada Investment to Help Hemp Farmers and Processors Reach Full Potential

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA–(Marketwire – Dec. 13, 2010) – The Government of Canada is injecting more than $728,000 to help the hemp industry increase production capacity and make new inroads into the U.S. market. The Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, made the announcement today on behalf of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz…


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