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We're Clean, We're Green, and We'd Like Our Ethanol Plant Emissions Exempted

Monday, January 11, 2010

The word hypocrisy gets tossed around a lot in Washington, where money and power masquerade as character and values. Rarely does the hypocrisy reach such craven heights, however, as a recent request from the leading ethanol trade group, Growth Energy. The request concerns the Environmental Protection Agency's  proposed rule to regulate greenhouse gases, which includes something called "the Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule." Title V and the rule would require every U.S. facility emitting more than 25,000 tons of GHGs a year to report their emissions and obtain permits that demonstrate that it's doing its best to reduce emissions. Growth Energy  is requesting that ethanol production be exempted from the regulations, arguing that:

The modern grain ethanol industry is part of an ecosystem in which the crops that are processed into food, feed and fuel actually absorb inordinately large amounts of CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere (most often generated by the conversion or use of fossil fuels) and hence serve as a means of cycling CO2 rather than generating new additions to the overall loading of GHG’s in the environment.

Forget the large amount of carbon emitted to produce the chemical fertilizers that are slathered on corn, or that as plants go, corn does a poor job of capturing carbon. The real irony is that the ethanol industry benefits from a federal mandate that forces consumers to use their product -- allegedly because ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Yet they don't want to be forced to report their own greenhouse gas emissions or even approach the unthinkable -- reducing their own emissions. You might remember what General Wesley Clark said upon joining Growth Energy:

Ethanol is America's best renewable fuel because it can help create green-collar jobs, boost our domestic economy, and improve our environment right now. By expanding our use of ethanol today, we can make immediate progress in three vital areas: greater energy independence, a stronger American economy and a cleaner environment.

Or how Growth Energy CEO Tom Bius walked the green plank even further when he attacked ethanol critics:

They don't care about creating a sustainable, green economy that creates U.S. jobs while cutting carbon emissions. Ethanol does all those things.

How, exactly, does exempting ethanol plant emissions from EPA regulation cut carbon emissions? Growth Energy's other concern is that the rules will cover nearly all ethanol plants and unduly burden them with the costs of regulating their own GHGs. This ends up being a dollars to donuts analogy. Every gallon of ethanol produced costs taxpayers $0.45 to sweeten the deal for oil refiners who are forced to blend ethanol into gasoline. That means taxpayers are on the hook for $45 million every year for the ethanol produced in a typical 100-million-gallon-a-year plant. This is compared to the $150,000 in potential additional costs the ethanol industry is whining about having to pony up if the EPA rule goes forward. It's this type of blatant hypocrisy that gets folks like the Washington Posts' Steven Pearlstein's blood boiling.


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