Sunday, June 03, 2007

DM Register's attack on biofuels

As I went to the checkout counter of the local Casey's with my primary vice, a 32 oz of Mt Dew, I noticed a peculiar smell eminating near where I sat down my drink. Scanning across the counter top, I spotted the source of said odor, a vile combination of half truths and liberal spin. There in front of me was a stack of Des Moines Sunday Registers. On the front page I spied a graphic of a fuel nozzle covered in mud. My interest piqued, I held my nose, reached into my wallet, and purchase the copy along with my source of caffeine.

Upon returning home, I found a special insert called "How Biofuels Pollute". Ah yes, what a perfect title for a hatchet job.

It appears that the Register's lead ag writer, Perry Beeman, has written a series of articles attacking Iowa's burgeoning industry, including various journalism techniques, such as using alternative calculations to make data appear worse than it really is, buzz words to fan the flames of passion, and of course, forgetting about the other side of the debate, as if it didn't exist.

I'll start my critique with a graphic and text called "Environmental Impact of Biofuels".

1) "Distillers' Grains - A byproduct of the process, dried distillers's grains makes great feed for cattle, but is high in phosphorus, meaning more pollution from cow manure."

I regularly test the DDGS I sell, and it's phosphorus content is not any higher than soybean meal, which is commonly used as a protein source in hogs and cattle. While one can use more DDGS in a ration than soybean meal, the total addition of phosphorus to the environment is not THAT great. Overfeeding DDGS can be a problem, but not just to the environment, but to the cow as well. And don't we have manure management plans in place for most feedlots anyway?

2) "Less Habitat - Plowing trees and native grasses to plant more corn could reverse decades of work to protect rivers and lakes from crop-related pollution. This could increase soil erosion and chemical runoff, and reduce wildlife habitat."

This is kind of like saying "Eating uranium-laced brownies could kill you." Yes, but no one in their right mind would do this. Farmers are not "plowing trees and native grasses" to plant more corn - that would be too much work for small acreage gains, and besides, it would probably violate their conservation plans they have with the NRCS, resulting in big $$$ fines.

Notice how Beeman includes "native grasses", instead of saying something like "multi-flora rose" or "introduced species"; "native grasses" sounds more environmental and therefore needs to be protected against evil plows.

3) "Auto Emissions - Trucking crop material to ethanol plants and waste material away from the plants adds to vehicle emissions. Truck traffic can stir up roads, sending lung-harming dust into the air."

So, where is all this crop material going now? Just sitting on the farm, waiting to rot? It has to go somewhere. Wouldn't it be better to be taken to the local ethanol plant 20 miles down the road than to haul it 100 miles to the grain terminal on the river? As for "lung-harming" dust, I should be dead by now from all of the road dust I've enhaled. Big trucks or small cars, they both send up dust. At least I know I'm getting enough calcium in my system.

Later, Beeman includes an article titled "Drive to increase corn acres could damage soil". He throws in a quote from Duane Sand of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation that for every gallon of ethanol produced, 20 pounds of soil is lost. Let's do the math - 2.8 gallons of ethanol produced per bushel of corn, assume 150 bushels per acre of yield. That's 4.2 tons per acre of soil loss. While it's not good to loose any soil, 4.2 tons is less than the 5 tons/acre that is created every year through growth and recycling of crop materials. So, one could say that topsoil is being created while producing crops for ethanol!

What's even better, continous corn on corn will produce more residue for trapping sediment and regenerating the soil. That's got to be a good thing, right? But no, the P-man conveniently leaves out this little factoid. That's a little example of spin, folks.

In the next few days, Perry Beeman will gain accolades from his fellow staff writers at the Register for attempting to slay the sacred cow that is Iowa's renewable fuel industry. And while his insert did include some issues that need to be addressed (water usage by ethanol plants, CO2 emissions, etc), he didn't attempt to compare the environmental issues of biofuels to the known problems of the petroleum industry that biofuels are attempting to surplant. He'd rather focus on various issues in this developing industry and thus paint the entire process as harmful and wrong.

The blatant spin and use of buzzwords in this special edition further illustrates the bias the Des Moines Register has. It no longer cares about objective reporting, but rather in creating a straw man stuffed with "environmental offenses", and then taking on the role of protector of the people. Sadly, if this is how the Register much operate to gain readership, then it is no better than the National Enquirer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to put these words almost verbatum to the editorial desk at the Register immediately for next weeks edition!

10:19 PM, June 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty well convinced ethanol as we're producing it now is a total scam. I simply don't care. I'm going to ride the money train to the bank. I'm glad that my friends and neighbors are getting a decent price for corn and can make some money for a change. I hope the farmers can ride the scam for as long as possible and that when the collapse comes (and it will) it is as painless as possible.

The fact is, stations can't give that E-85 crap away. You run it in a flex fuel vehicle and the MPG drops for crap plus it's just as high if not higher at the pump.

Ethanol is not efficient to produce as we're doing it right now. Bio-diesel isn't a lot better. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that for powering internal combustion engines, until some mazing technological breakthrough comes along we're stuck with gas and diesel. (both of which could be produced much more efficiently)

As for the Register. Who the heck listens to those educated morons? I mean really. They couldn't correctly report what happened on Saturday night at Irma's House Of Infinite Delights if you reenacted the events in front of them.

They've got an agenda. Bio-fuel bad. Electric car good. Greedy farmer bad. Environment good. Private enterprise (ethanol plants)run by farmers bad. Government controls on free enterprise (ethanol plants, farms and greedy farmers) good.

See! It's so easy a Register staffer can do it!

2:23 AM, June 04, 2007  
Blogger bgunzy said...

Actually, biodiesel is more efficient in terms of energy in/energy out than ethanol. The problem with BD, however, is that there is a limited amount of feedstock available, probably less than ethanol.

Ethanol/biodiesel are not the cure-all, but they can help ease the pain.

As for the E10 vs E85 debate - I hate to say it, but I think E85 is a scam. It's out there so Detroit can make cars to get special CAFE credits to offset their gas guzzlers.

6:55 AM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ethanol component in today's gasoline is responsible for $.10 to $.12/gallon higher price for this blend. I buy it because I no longer have a choice. Yes, ethanol keeps spark plugs clean and does away with the need for Heet in the winter months. It does not burn any "cleaner" than ordinary gasoline and its unlikely anyone is plowing up the Sheeder Prairie to grow more of the stuff. I just wish I had a choice.

9:58 AM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I've talked to station owners who have put in E-85 pumps they tell me once people run it once they don't do it again. The only people they sell it to are .gov people who are required to buy it. For them it doesn't matter if it gets good mileage or makes economic sense since they don't pay the bills for fuel costs.

11:37 PM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Somebody who knows this stuff said...

Very impressive commentary and insight. Certainly not what I expected when I checked up on one of my favorite blog sites. i get so tired of Beeman's half-truths. He has good contacts in the industry but he only wants to push one side of the story. I know he didn't call me for the other side.

Sure ethanol isn't the end-all, but where is John Mellencamp and that other fella with the beard and tax evasion problems? Oh, ya, Willie Nelson. We don't need them because farmers are getting a good price for their corn for the first time in 40 years. This is the beginning of a real revolution in getting commidty prices were they belong and cutting out the ADMs. Corn now, switchgrass in a few years. For once we have broken the stranglehold that the middlemen had on our farmers.

I agree with the previous poster that I'll ride this ethanol craze as far as it can go. I've worked on about 30 ethanol projects around the country and it is amazing how some short-sighted folks can bad-mouth a gift. Take it and enjoy it whilst you can. It won't be here forever, but nothing will. So lets make some money and make the environment a better place to boot.

1:21 AM, June 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw on the news that the makers of corn flakes are reducing the size of the grocery store boxes and raising the price of this breakfast food; all because of ethanol. Have you no shame, sir ?

8:28 AM, June 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Send this as a letter to the editor post haste.


10:23 PM, June 06, 2007  

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