Any Port in a Storm for Ethanol and Oil

The recent campaign against Environmental Protection Agency clean water rule proposals has descended into farce, courtesy of the American Petroleum Institute and the federal ethanol mandate.

The issue of ethanol subsidies and mandates has generated opposition coalitions comprised of some pretty “strange bedfellows.” With ethanol’s threat to fossil fuel’s market share, its impact on livestock producers and unintended environmental consequences, a galaxy of disparate groups has aligned at one time or another to attack ethanol’s government support. API is one of the leaders of this movement and a key member of the coalition called Smarter Fuel Future.

Ethanol industry groups and farm groups have vigorously defended the Renewable Fuels Standard that sets the corn ethanol mandate from reform efforts. The ethanol industry in particular took aim at the occasional partnering of oil and green interests against ethanol. The Renewable Fuels Association’s Bob Dinneen even penned an op-ed, Environmentalists shouldn’t side with Big Oil against biofuels, in an attempt to shame greens.

The main RFS defending farm lobby groups include the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Grower’s Association. NCGA obviously has the biggest stake in ethanol. And they aren’t shy about airing their grievances about API’s anti-ethanol crusade.

And then last week API, NCGA and AFBF hit pause on their fuel feud.

The occasion for momentary détente between these groups after years of bitter policy combat over biofuels?

Proposed EPA clean water rules.

Apparently the one thing that will unite them is their fight to allow the unfettered pollution of America’s clean water. EPA’s new proposed Waters of the US rule is aimed at stepping in to help restore the over half of the nation’s rivers and stream that are in poor condition.

A game-changing poster child for EPA’s proposed rule emerged this summer when the city of Toledo, Ohio had to shut off water to 500,00 residents. The cause was water fouled by agriculture field run-off.

The Toledo event was so significant than none other than API’s Smarter Fuel Future used the opportunity to pin the event on agriculture and the RFS:

Last week, half a million people in Ohio were left without drinking water because of severe toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, primarily caused by fertilizer runoff.

Increased fertilizer runoff is just another unintended consequence of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that’s doing more harm to the environment that good. (For those of you catching up, the RFS is a government policy that mandates that ethanol fuel made from corn be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply.)

As the level of ethanol mandated grows each year, more land acreage is devoted to grow corn to make it. In fact, farms across the Midwest, including Ohio, have converted an additional 13.5 million acres to grow corn.

Unfortunately, corn happens to be an incredibly water and fertilizer intensive crop. Phosphorous, the element in fertilizer that is causing the algae bloom, is carried with rain from the farm land and ground water into nearby lakes and streams — and it’s happening in more than just Ohio.

File that under some seriously cynical bullshit. Because while ethanol mandates have contributed to water pollution and the conversion of grasslands and wetlands, the oil industry has fouled far more than its fair share of the environment.

It’s telling that farm groups would allow a strident ethanol critic — Big Oil —  into the tent opposing clean water rules. What’s becoming clear is that after Toledo the commodity agriculture lobby is very worried their days of unregulated non-point source pollution are over.

photo credit: Brave Heart via photopin cc

photo credit: NOAA 

photo credit: JeepersMedia via photopin cc

About the author

For over fifteen years I’ve investigated and written about America’s worst polluters from the gas fields of North Dakota to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve been a Senior Advisor for the Environmental Working Group and a Senior Manager at the Environmental Defense Fund. As a freelance journalist, I’ve written for Politico, the Washington DC City Paper, the Huffington Post, Grist, Civil Eats and the Food and Environment Reporting Network.

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