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Published March 17, 2014, 09:43 AM

Meeks letter misses the mark

I disagreed with the March 10 commentary, “Ethanol mandate hurts environment,” by Annette Meeks of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

By: Ashwin Raman , Agweek

I disagreed with the March 10 commentary, “Ethanol mandate hurts environment,” by Annette Meeks of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

How Meeks came to the conclusion that, “Since its inception, the ethanol mandate had made neither economic nor environmental sense,” was unclear. A new report by ABF Economics, a firm that provides consulting services to the ag and biofuel industries indicates the ethanol industry contributed $44.03 billion to America’s economy in 2013 and employed, directly and indirectly, close to 400,000 Americans.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates the ethanol industry contributes $5.03 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 12,000 jobs.

Ethanol also has helped suppress the price of gasoline. A 2012 study by Iowa State University’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Development concluded that ethanol reduced the price of gasoline in 2011 by $1.09 per gallon nationally. In the Midwest alone, CARD found gas prices were reduced $1.69 per gallon.

As for the environment, Argonne National Laboratory, a nonprofit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy, said in a 2012 study that corn-based ethanol reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 29 to 57 percent depending on the energy efficiency of the plant, or an average of 44 percent.

Using Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Transportation model, also known as the GREET model, the Renewable Fuels Association concluded that the 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2012 reduced greenhouse gas emissions from on-the-road vehicles by 33.4 million tons. That’s the equivalent of removing 5.2 million cars and pickups from the road for a year.

Meeks cited a story by the Associated Press that claimed American farmers last year planted “15 million more acres of corn … than before the ethanol boom.” In actuality, farmers increased acreage in response to drought-ravaged corn supplies in 2011 and 2012. In fact, as detailed in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates released in January, the amount of bushels used for ethanol decreased in 2012 to '13 (the marketing year for corn begins Sept. 1).

Meeks said “5 million acres of land set aside for conversion — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite national parks combined — have vanished under Obama’s watch.” The truth is a little different. Acreage enrolled under the Conservation Reserve Program, has fallen under President Barack Obama but as a result of a lower cap on CRP acreage, as stipulated in the 2008 farm bill, which set it at 32 million acres from 39.2 million previously. As such, in 2009, the CRP acreage was at 33.72 million and dropped to 31.29 million in 2010 and 31.12 million in 2011. In 2012, it was 29.5 million.

Meeks added that, “Historically, farmers have used most of the domestic crop to feed livestock. However, in the past three years, the majority of America’s corn was diverted into fuel.” This statement is incorrect. Referring back to USDA’s data, 4.67 billion bushels of corn, or 39 percent of a total supply of 11.93 billion bushels, was used for ethanol and coproducts. These figures refute the idea that corn production for ethanol supersedes production for livestock feed.

Moreover, a third of every bushel of corn used for ethanol production is used to produce distiller’s dried grains, which is a high-protein animal feed.

Meeks also said ethanol raised food prices, but a study by ABF Economics last year pointed to the strong link between food and crude oil prices. Indeed, one only has to look at readily available data by the U.S. Energy Information Service and the UN’s World Food Organization to see the correlation between crude oil and food prices. High gasoline prices affect the cost of farming and transportation.

The bottom line is that ethanol has contributed positively to our economy, both state and national, and it has created jobs, reduced greenhouse gases and saved us money at the pump.

Editor’s note: Raman is the communications and education coordinator for the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association based in Minneapolis.

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