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Karl Guenther Column: The value of renewable fuels question

A gas nozzle is used to pump petrol at a station in New York February 22, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A gas nozzle is used to pump petrol at a station in New York February 22, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever come to a consensus on the value of renewable fuels and their usage, versus abandoning renewable fuels and “doing business as usual.”  The renewable fuels folks seem to think that’s what’s being done, and I see some validation of that concern.  Some wise guy once said, “Just because you're paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you!” - - or something like that.  Over the last several weeks the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce has been examining the Renewable Fuels Standard, in a series of whitepapers.  The most recent one  posed questions regarding Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Other Environmental Impacts.. RFA (Renewable Fuels Association) President and CEO Bob Dineen has come back to the committee with some questions of his own. 

We all know that very often someone on the “hot seat” who answers a question with a question, is trying to dodge the issue without giving an untruthful answer.  I don’t see this as one of those cases.  It does look to me like the House Committee is trying for admissions as to negatives on the environment imposed by ethanol and other renewable fuels.  That’s well and good, but should not, as Mr Dineen asks, the committee be asking those same questions of big oil -  the petroleum industry.

There are agricultural interests here, to be sure, because ethanol is the biggest among the renewable fuels, and ethanol still comes mostly from corn.

Introducing the series of ten questions to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Bob Dineen points out, quite logically, “It’s inappropriate to examine the environmental effects of the Renewable Fuels Standard, without simultaneously examining the effects of NOT having the RFS.”  He goes on to state what I see is the obvious - - by focusing on the environmental impacts of renewable fuels exclusively, the Committee is missing the significant environmental and public health consequences of increased petroleum production and use in the absence of ethanol and the RFS.

We don’t know, of course that the Committee is focusing its environmental concerns exclusively on renewable fuels - - but we do know that that is the focus of this particular Committee endeavor.  It may have already put Big Oil in the spotlight, and found it to be environmentally harmless.  Or, the Committee, having had much longer experience with petroleum than with ethanol, has already placed Big Oil on some sort of environmental scale, and now is just trying place the combination of Big Oil andRFS elements on that same scale.

Dineen’s closing comment goes like this: The GreenHouse Gas emissions reduction associated with substituting ethanol for gasoline has been equivalent to removing an average of four million vehicles from America’s roadways ANNUALLY from 2008 to 2012.

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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