AP Shocked, Shocked To Find Corn Ethanol Is Bad

Anybody who has been paying attention has long known that corn ethanol in the U.S. is of dubious environmental benefit, leads to the loss of valuable grasslands, puts pressure on food supplies and prices – and all in all is just plain stupid public policy.

So congratulations to the Associated Press for getting off its ass, putting some of its vast reporting resources to work on a matter of public importance, doing an “investigation” and pulling together these and various other strands of the corn ethanol boondoggle. Beyond the aggravating tone of self-congratulation laced through the report (it’s even more obnoxious in the AP’s follow-up about the industry’s apoplectic reaction to the piece), I’ve got no problem with the AP story.

ethanol to butanol

An Indiana ethanol plant (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, actually, there is the matter of the ridiculous headline, too: “The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama’s Green Power Push.”

First: As all those links in paragraph No. 1 above indicate, there’s little that’s “secret” about what the AP is reporting. Second and more importantly: Obama? The idea that U.S. corn ethanol is strictly or even principally an Obama issue is asinine.

Yes, absolutely, the administration has for five years waltzed along to the corn ethanol music. But there’s at least one thing that the Renewable Fuels Associatin said in its response to the AP story that was spot-on and relevant when it comes to the renewable fuel standard that props up the corn ethanol industry: “The RFS has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. It was originally passed by a Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by a Republican president in 2005. The RFS was expanded in 2007 by a Democrat-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by a Republican president.”

This isn’t to say Obama doesn’t bear some responsibility here; he jumped aboard the ethanol train as a senator from corny Illinois, and has stayed aboard. But calling ethanol “Obama’s Green Power Push” ignores that true obstacle to changing the RFS – corn state pols from both parties like Minnesota’s liberal Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Iowa’s conservative Republican Chuck Grassley.

In addition, vaguely headlining the story “Obama’s Green Power Push” without mentioning what the entire frigging story is about – ETHANOL!!! – the AP slimes the administration’s work in wind, solar, geothermal and, yes, advanced biofuels, which are matters entirely apart from corn ethanol.

UPDATE: I see the AP has now changed the headline on its story from “The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama’s Green Power Push” to “The Secret Environmental Cost of US Ethanol Policy.” That’s better.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.