RFA Responds to TIME Magazine Article Against Biofuels

In the Renewable Fuels Association’s ongoing effort to let no unsubstantiated claim about ethanol and America’s renewable fuels industry go unanswered, RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen sent the following letter to the editors of Time Magazine, once again objecting to the unbalanced and factually inaccurate reporting/editorializing on biofuels by Michael Grunwald:


Dear editor:

Michael Grunwald’s “Stress Test” for biofuels doesn’t pass the sniff test of objective and credible journalism. While we agree the newly released “Stress Test” for biofuels was rigged, it was not in favor of biofuels as Mr. Grunwald mistakenly contends. Quite the contrary, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for the Renewable Fuels Standard goes out of its way to calculate incalculable impacts of biofuels while giving petroleum a free pass.

In his crusade against biofuels, Mr. Grunwald routinely relies on oft-refuted environmental advocate and lawyer Tim Searchinger as the crutch for intemperate and ill-founded attacks on biofuels and agriculture. Specifically, Mr. Searchinger’s work that Mr. Grunwald editorialized on the cover of Time last year has not held up to scientific scrutiny. And his theory of international land use change has been roundly questioned by scores of scientists, not advocates, in this field of study.

Responding to the state of California’s equally controversial efforts to limit biofuel use, 111 scientists and PhD’s cautioned that the theory of indirect land use change (iLUC) and the “science” supporting it was not ready for primetime. Writing to Governor Schwarzenegger, these scientists stated:

“The ability to predict this alleged effect depends on using an economic model to predict worldwide carbon effects, and the outcomes are unusually sensitive to the assumptions made by the researchers conducting the model runs. In addition, this field of science is in its nascent stage, is controversial in much of the scientific community, and is only being enforced against biofuels in the proposed LCFS.”
Writing specifically about Mr. Grunwald’s favorite topic of deforestation, the scientists stated:

“In a general sense, it is worth noting that most primary forest deforestation is currently occurring in places like Brazil, Indonesia and Russia as a direct result of logging, cattle ranching and subsistence farming. Adding an iLUC penalty to biofuels will hold the sector accountable to decision-making far outside of its control (i.e. for decisions related to the supply chains of other products), and is unlikely to have any effect on protecting forests or mitigating GHG emissions as a result of land management practices.”
By relying on the refuted hypothesis of advocates like Mr. Searchinger, Grunwald selectively ignores numerous studies that demonstrate the efficacy of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles that run on petroleum.

The EPA’s own calculations, based on the direct comparison with gasoline, shows ethanol alone reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60 percent. A recently published study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that ethanol reduced carbon emissions by up to 59 percent compared to gasoline. Internationally, the International Energy Agency’s Bioenergy Task 39 concluded that ethanol’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase from ongoing innovations using existing technologies.

Another favorite canard of the author is that ethanol is responsible for rising food prices and food shortages around the world. Yet, a recent government report (Congressional Budget Office) found that ethanol was responsible for just 10 percent of the rise in food prices seen in the U.S. and that oil prices were responsible for 36 percent of the increase, three times the impact of ethanol. Moreover, the U.S. exported and fed livestock a record or near record amount of corn in 2008 in the midst of increasing U.S. ethanol production. Such statistics are inconvenient to those seeking to derail biofuels (and help thereby maintain our dependence on imported oil), but are no less relevant to the debate.

Unabashed advocates like Mr. Searchinger and Mr. Grunwald are welcome to their opinions, but not to their own facts. Every energy choice we make as a nation will have consequences. But the consequences of making no choice at all are far too dire to let happen.

It is the sensationalism of issues like this by a once-credible news magazine that creates confusion and undermines the will and ability of the nation to make progress on green solutions like biofuels. Time Magazine and a nationally recognized journalist like Mr. Grunwald owe more to their readers.


Bob Dinneen
President & CEO

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