RFA Disputes Dead Zone Tie to Ethanol

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle this week blames ethanol production for the so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, which it compares to the oil disaster currently facing that body of water.

Renewable Fuels Association LogoThe article prompted a response from Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, who starts off a letter to the editor by saying, “it is clear the San Francisco Chronicle has a dead zone of its own where facts die and science is buried.”

Dinneen notes that scientific study of hypoxia in the Gulf, which creates what is called a “dead zone” where oxygen is depleted, has failed to find any one cause. Dinneen quotes one researcher who says, “credible evidence shows that [excess] nutrients [in the Gulf] may also be derived from atmospheric deposition, sewage and industrial discharge and fertilizer runoff from residential areas. Nutrient runoff from suburban areas roughly equals that of agriculture lands.” That would include things like golf courses, residential lawns and office parks.

As to ethanol contributing to an increase in Gulf hypoxia, Dinneen says, “The facts dispute the very basis of the article. U.S. cropland has not expanded because of ethanol. There are fewer acres of corn today in the U.S. than there were in the 1920s-1940s. Corn acres topped 100 million acres several times in the late 1920s/early 1930s. Compare that to this year’s corn acreage of 87.9 million. In fact, corn acres have fallen 6% since 2007.”

Read Dinneen’s letter here.

Ethanol Industry Takes Environmental Group to Task

The ethanol industry has come together to take the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to task over their claims that American ethanol is not a sound strategy. The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) have called EWG out on the table for what they claim is their misleading information about the ethanol tax incentive. A recent International Energy Agency report found that the world spent more than $550 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels in 2008. During the same time frame, the domestic ethanol industry only received $4.5 billion, which the ethanol groups are calling “a bargain by comparison.”

This attack is just one of several that various environmental groups have launched against the industry.

Also misleading, say the ethanol groups, is the discussion of tax incentives without properly attributing increases in economic activity resulting from these incentives. In 2009, U.S. ethanol production employed close to 400,000 people directly or indirectly and added more than $15 billion to federal, state and local government tax revenues while at the same time displacing more than 350 million barrels of imported oil.

“It is disappointing that some in the environmental community continue to have an irrational and unsophisticated notion of how to reduce fossil fuel use,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol. “Some say the solution is to get rid of corn-based ethanol today, in hopes that some other potentially promising, but not yet commercialized fuel will be available tomorrow. The result would be more pain at the pump and more pollution for the planet. Ethanol is the only commercially available alternative to gasoline today, and removing it from our nation’s fuel supply would mean more oil use – and we ought to learn from the painful and ongoing lesson in the Gulf of Mexico that more oil is simply not a sustainable path.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy continued, “It is unfortunate that groups purporting to represent the environment are still criticizing the only alternative fuel — domestic ethanol — that reduces our dependence on foreign oil.” Continue reading

Working for Green Spotlights Green Jobs

One of the benefits of America’s move to energy security and its quest to curb climate change are the opportunities for people to work in the burgeoning green industry. Today, Working for Green, a new online community dedicated to helping Americans secure green jobs, has launched a new video-based resource that spotlights individuals who are improving their lives through green innovation and jobs. Some of the people who are featured are working in the solar and wind industries, one person is converting cow manure to renewable energy, and another is collecting hair and fur to be used to help with the oil spill clean up efforts.

This 40+ video series has been in production for nearly a year as crews spent time with “everyday” Americans in 40 states (they plan to visit all 50 states by the end of this year) who have found unique ways to save money and find meaningful work during the country’s economic recession. During the next phase of the project, the Working for Green crew will be spending time on college campuses who are engaged in green programs and partnering with companies who are looking for large numbers of green employees.

“Our journey is taking us to amazing communities where we’re meeting people filled with determination and hope who reinforce what we’re all about – people helping people,” says Susan Neisloss, founder and host of Working For Green. “Their success provides a road map for the future and highlights the need for quality and passion in all of our pursuits and not waiting for government or corporations to take the first step. What better way than being inspired by people of all ages and backgrounds who are motivating one another during this very tough economic time.”

Book Review – No Impact Man

So you’re a bit frustrated with the state of the climate and pretty concerned with our fossil fuel use. So what do you do? You become the No Impact Man. Colin Beavan, a writer from New York who was struggling with how to deal with climate change, decided that he, along with his wife, two year old daughter and dog, would spend a year trying to have no negative impact on the climate. This experience, which he blogged about every day, led to the book, “No Impact Man The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet.”

Beavan was extreme. No “throw away” products made from trees, rarely any motorized transportation including elevators (did I mention he lives in NY?), all locally grown food within 250 miles and no meat, no buying of new things (but they could purchase used items), and if that weren’t enough, no electricity for three months! So what did he learn? We should be able to keep the things that improve our lives, yet not at the expense of the environment. And yes, he says, this can be done.

As an energy writer there was one chapter that I felt was extremely compelling and that was when he and his family turned out the electricity. Yep – no electricity for three months with the exception of a solar panel he used to power his laptop. In this chapter, Beavan talks about the true cost of fossil fuel use – something that many are trying to get consumers to understand, including me.

He writes, “The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are not less costly than renewable energy. Fossil fuels cost us and our planet much more to use. The problem is that the true costs of the use of coal and oil are not immediately apparent in the price.” Continue reading

EPA, USDA Announce Biogas Program

Two federal agencies are teaming up to capture the methane U.S. farms produce and turn that greenhouse gas into fuel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture have a new interagency agreement that will promote the biogas as a renewable energy source, while cutting those gas emissions from livestock operations. This EPA press release says the agreement is an expansion of the AgStar program:

“We want to seize every opportunity to confront climate change and move into the clean economy of the future. This is a smart way to transform what would be a harmful greenhouse pollutant into a source of renewable energy — and make a profit for American farmers,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We have the technology and the expertise, all we need now is to act. The AgStar program brings real benefits to our air and creates new opportunities for our farming community.”

“The farms and ranches that dot our countryside can contribute greatly to addressing America’s long-term energy challenges and the partnership we are announcing today will not only help generate renewable energy, but provide new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The EPA and USDA believe the $3.9 million their collaboration will provide over the next five years will help farms overcome obstacles preventing them from recovering and using biogas. Right now, there are about 150 on-farm manure digesters across the country that turn methane into biogas. Estimates are that 8,000 farms could put in digesters and recover the equivalent of the greenhouse gases of 6.5 million passenger vehicles a year while producing 1,500 megawatts of energy.

Economist Defends Ethanol Jobs Numbers

Nat GreeneIn a commentary on the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, the organization’s Director of Renewable Energy Policy Nathanael Greene criticizes the ethanol industry for what he calls a “highly inflated jobs study” released earlier this week. Greene claims the industry’s jobs numbers are “way off” because they use both inflated jobs multipliers and inflated economic impact, creating what he calls “wonky numbers.”

The author of the study, John Urbanchuk of Entrix, provided a detailed defense of his analysis in a comment on Greene’s post.

John UrbanchukDefending the job multiplier, Urbanchuk writes, “Mr. Greene accuses me of using “inflated” jobs multipliers and suggests that “… a multiplier of 6 is aggressive. A multiplier of 3-4 is more realistic …” I used the RIMS II final demand employment multipliers for supplying industries calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

Greene also accuses the ethanol industry of “magically creating thousands of corn growing jobs that would have existed anyway,” which Urbanchuk also defends.

“Our analysis estimates the number of jobs in the corn sector supported by ethanol and at risk if the VEETC is eliminated. The loss of 4 billion gallons of ethanol is the equivalent of 1.5 billion bushels of corn, or about 11% of total corn utilization. Mr. Greene assumes that if corn demand is reduced by lower ethanol production, corn growers will continue to plant and produce the same amount of corn regardless. Supply and demand, Mr. Greene … supply will adjust to lower demand … fewer acres and bushels translates to fewer jobs to plant, treat, harvest, transport corn … not to mention to provide all of the ancillary tasks on the farm. Moreover, during the whole international land use change debate the environmental community said if we weren’t growing corn for ethanol, all that land would “revert to nature.” It now appears that the claim is that if we weren’t growing corn for ethanol, we’d be growing the same amount anyway for some other else. In other words and to parody a famous movie “if you grow it, they will buy it”! You can’t have it both ways.”

Read Greene’s entire post and Urbanchuk’s response here.

Green Activists Continue Ethanol Smear Campaign

Another anti-biofuels report has been released, this time from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) who is arguing that an immediate benefit would ensue if current biofuels policies were repealed and replaced with policies that would take the world’s most productive cropland out of production. Maybe more alarming is that while the report attempts to discredit the most promising biofuels technologies, it gives fossil fuels along with other dirty energy sources a get out of jail card. This report has spurred the biofuels industry to respond.

“Most disappointing about the continuous barrage of attacks by environmental activists is that we share many of the same goals,” said Matt Hartwig, Director of Public Affairs at the Renewable Fuels Association. “Ethanol producers remain steadfastly committed to developing new technologies that improve efficiencies and expand the basket of feedstocks from which ethanol is made. Unfortunately, many in the environmental movement choose to rely on disproven theories and partnerships with the oil lobby to mislead and misrepresent what American ethanol production is all about. Simply put, second and third generations of ethanol technology will not exist without a successful first generation.” Continue reading

Register Now for Energy Communications Summit

Another approach and discussion is emerging surrounding messaging and education of global climate change. Green communication specialists will gather in May for a summit to refine the cause that clean energy and sustainable business practices are good policy and good business.

renergizeThe first-ever Green PR summit rEnergize Communications Summit will be held May 23-25 to discuss how corporate brands, products and initiatives will be best positioned for success in the new era of climate change and sustainability. Communication experts from corporations, organizations, trusts, foundations, and local and state government will be working together to create a unified messaging strategy that will prepare people for the global changes already under way to alleviate the destruction of climate change.

“There is a disconnect between the importance that people place on the environment and what sustainability actions they are willing to adopt,” said Joanna Schroeder, APR and Principal of 4R Communications, the company spearheading the summit. “Now that the world has embraced the issues surrounding climate change, and policy is underway to mitigate potential damage, we need a concerted communications effort that will help educate and prepare the public for these inevitable changes.”

Conference speakers include Cara Pike, Director of Our Social Capital Project and author of Climate Crossroads: A Research-Based Framing Guide; Autumn Salamack, Aveda; Greensburg, Kansas Mayor Bob Dixson; Brian Davis, CleanBiz Horizons; Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest; and Greg Pahl author of The Citizens Energy Handbook.

Register by March 15 to receive free registration to the webinar, “5 Key Barriers to Environmental Engagement,” as well as for conference registration discounts. For a full list of speakers, and to register, visit www.rEnergizeMedia.com. You can also follow news about the conference on Twitter at #GRPR.

Ethanol Industry Rep Appointed to California Panel

CA ARBAt least one ethanol industry representative has been appointed to an expert work group attempting to assess the true carbon footprint of all fuel sources under the California’s proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

POET Senior Vice President of Science and Technology Mark Stowers has been appointed to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is one of 30 experts from around the world appointed to the group. The group has been charged with assisting the Board in “refining and improving the land use and indirect effect analysis of transportation fuels,” according to a CARB resolution. The group will come up with recommendations to present to CARB by Jan. 1, 2011. The group’s first meeting will be Feb. 26 in Sacramento.

“The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is an important piece of energy policy, too important to rely on theories or unproven models,” Stowers said. “As the lone representative for ethanol producers in the workgroup, I want to make sure than all carbon accounting is based on the wealth of facts and accumulated data regarding agriculture, energy and deforestation. I also want to ensure that all fuels, including oil and electricity, are held to the same accounting standards as biofuels so that the rule truly can lower carbon emissions.”

The group also includes Jesper Hedal Kløverpris of Novozymes, which produces enzymes to further the development of advanced biofuels, as well as a number of university and energy researchers – but Stowers is the only ethanol industry representative on the panel. Stowers has led efforts at POET to create new, efficient processes for producing grain-based ethanol that save energy, limit water use and improve ethanol yields. He also leads POET’s cellulosic ethanol effort, known as Project LIBERTY, which produces ethanol from corn cobs.

ALMS Partners with American Forests

American Le Mans Series (ALMS) is known globally for its environmental initiatives, and today is taking another green step with its partnership with American Forests to support its “dollar-a-tree” Global ReLeaf program. Nonprofit American Forests, has a goal of planting 100 million trees by 2020. ALMS has pledged to plant at least 5,000 trees during the 2010 race season with the focus on areas that have been damaged by natural disasters such as fires and floods and areas that have been overdeveloped.

“Since its inception, the ALMS has been at the forefront of developing green initiatives and solutions in motorsports,” said American Le Man Series President and CEO Scott Atherton.”We are very proud of our efforts with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy as they relate to our on-track efforts. Our involvement with American Forests enables us to contribute to similar solutions away from the race track and is another way the American Le Mans Series can advocate for a greener tomorrow.”

With the implementation of the Green ReLeaf campaign, the Series will begin every race weekend by displaying a Survivor tree in the paddock. The Survivor Elm – donated by the Series and its teams through American Forests’ Historic Tree program – will encourage fans to do their part for the planet. For every three trees planted, roughly one ton of carbon will be sequestered, allowing for over 1,666 tons of CO2 to be taken out of the atmosphere overall, and every acre of trees planted (approx. 340-490 trees) by the Series will offset about the amount of CO2 produced by driving a car 26,000 miles, or about twice the amount the average driver drives per year.

This initiative is part of the Series’ Michelin Green X Challenge, a season-long green competition.

Going Green Can Save You Green

Last week, I wrote a story regarding President Obama’s executive order for the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020. One goal of this program is to get other companies to follow suit, but many companies don’t know where to start. Enter the Hondo Green Assessment Tool (HGAT). To learn more about how companies can become more sustainable, I spoke with the Hondo Group’s CEO Lynn Balinas.

HGAT is an internet based tool for small to mid-sized companies that can measure a company’s carbon footprint, manage its carbon footprint and maintain carbon footprint goals, explained Balinas. The tool measures five categories: water, energy, transportation, materials and waste. Ultimately the tool helps companies become not only more sustainable but more profitable as well.

“People usually first think, it’s about the environment, it’s about global warming. That’s part of it,” said Balinas. “But it’s good governance and it’s actually profitable for organizations.”

A few years ago, people perceived that going green meant going broke. That is actually not the case. Going green will actually help you make more green. For example, if all small to mid-sized businesses turned off their computers and printers at night (unplug the electronics) nearly $2.1 billion could be saved annually.

Here is how it works. After 35 days of metrics based on the five categories outlined above, the HGAT will tell a company how to reduce the carbon footprint and give suggestions that a company can choose to integrate. Ultimately, the tools that are put into place will help a company manage its program and save money.

Companies can implement the program alone or partner with other small to mid-sized companies. Balinas said that the average cost to a company with less than 50 employees is around $50 per month but the return is much greater.

Listen to my interview with Lynn below to learn more about HGAT.

Book Review – Break Through

How many people agree with the statement, “We should not leave the solution to our environmental issues to environmentalists.” Two proponents of this idea are Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenbeger with the Break Through Institute and author of a book by the same name, “Break Through: Why We Can’t Leave Solving the Planet to Environmentalists.”

They write, “In the end, it is the global ecological crisis themselves that have triggered the death of environmentalism. For us to make sense of them, the category of “the environment” – along with the ancient story of humankind’s fall from nature – is no longer useful. The challenge of climate change is so massive, so global, and so complex that it can be overcome only if we look beyond the issue categories of the past and embrace a grand new vision for the future.”

They continue by arguing that before a new vision can be realized we must first ask, “What kind of beings are we? and What can we become?” And this is what they set out to answer; however, along the journey, I lost interest and barely held out long enough to discover the answer to these questions.

Right now, many people who read the book are thinking (or will write me) you didn’t get it. No, I got it. In fact, the answers are philosophical, engaging, well thought out, and have extreme merit. But the truth is, I like to be entertained when I read, even if it’s a nonfiction or business book, and this book felt like I was back in philosophy class in college (and for me that was one and done). Yet the philosophical arguments they lay out adeptly get us thinking into a new thought paradigm. We should no longer think about how the world can work together to solve global warming in the traditional sense of’ ‘environmentalism,’ but we must realize that true results will come when we understand that the solution to the problem lies in the intersection between ecological concern and global prosperity.

Obama to Slash Gov’t GHGs by 28%

For those of you who still have President Obama’s State of the Union speech in your mind, then you may remember his call for the government to slash greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). He has followed through. Less than a week after the pronouncement, Obama has issued an Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability for the federal government to slash GHG emissions 28 percent by 2020.

According to the White House, the federal government, which includes all of our armed forces, is the largest energy user in the U.S. The 28% reduction would decrease annual electricity use by 1.5% saving between $8 – $11 billion in energy costs through 2020. Just in 2008, the federal government racked up a $24.5 billion energy bill.

“As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” said Obama as quoted in an article in Recharge. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

This goal will require the government to shift to clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, which will support job growth and technology development in the clean tech sector – another major goal of the administration. This move also signals Obama’s commitment to passing a comprehensive climate change package, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

In the meantime, departments will be required to develop sustainability plans that will include current GHG emission estimates and to ensure follow-through, achievement reports will be published online for the public to view and submit reponses.

Obama’s Message: Hope, News Jobs & Clean Energy

PicImg_President_Obama_addresses_d7d1The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the global clean economy and America must be that nation,” said President Obama tonight during his first State of the Union address. “I will not accept second place.”

There were several major focuses of his speech including the support of small businesses, building a stronger financial institution and the creation of new jobs, especially in the clean tech sector. “We need to put more Americans to work building clean energy systems,” said Obama. He also wants to give incentives to consumers who add energy efficiency technologies to their homes, the purchase of these will help to support clean energy industry, he explained.

Obama continued that the House has already passed a bill that will do some of these things, and expressed hope that the Senate would as well. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.”

In anticipation for Obama’s support of clean tech jobs, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President, Bob Dinneen sent out a statement saying, “America’s ethanol producers stand with the President, ready to provide good paying jobs and economic opportunity in a cleaner and more sustainable manner. “In just the past 10 years, ethanol production has helped create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for engineers, construction workers, chemists, accountants, maintenance supervisors, and countless others. With new technologies on the precipice of commercialization, this industry is once again poised to bring unparalleled economic opportunity to small, rural communities all across the nation.”

Obama continued, “No area is more ripe for investments than energy…but to create more of these clean energy jobs, we meed more production, more efficiencies and more incentives. He then laid of some of the elements that are needed to create the clean energy industry including continued investments in advanced biofuels. Finally he said, “And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy profitable energy.” Continue reading

Book Review – Climate Cover-Up

This week we’re back to climate change, and the author James Hoggan, lays out the “crusade to deny global warming in “Climate Cover-Up.” For those of you familiar with the online green space, you may have come across the blog DeSmogBlog, which is co-founded by Hoggan. This site is dedicated to “out” those companies, experts and scientists who are (or were) trying to deny global climate change and manipulate the public. It also calls out the supporting characters to the deceit – the mainstream media.

ClimateCover-UpLike companies who have been outed in their campaigns against ethanol, Hoggan outs companies like ExxonMobil who had campaigns against the existence of global climate change. Climate changed seemed to gain worldwide consensus in 2006/07 in part due to the success of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth“. (For Gore fans, he just released his follow-up “Our Choice” last winter.)

Hoggan writes, “…no one seemed to be confused about climate change in 1988. The great scientific bodies of the world were concerned, and the foremost political leaders were engaged. So what happened then and now?” Well, that’s exactly what Hoggan lays out for the reader:  a big fat smear campaign against the earth. Continue reading