It's like a scene from "Jaws." Sharks from the food industry and the oil industry are circling and frenzied as they think that they smell blood in the water. Fact and fiction are merged together and wild unsubstantiated claims hurled around and unfortunately too often picked up and published.
Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) was to be the coup de grace for the ethanol industry three years ago. Imputing an estimated carbon penalty on ethanol for assumed "land use change" due to crops going to biofuels turned ethanol from a positive on the greenhouse gas emissions scale relative to gasoline to supposedly strongly negative and much worse.
Tim Searchinger, a former lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, published his now-infamous study in Science magazine showing this huge penalty. Headlines and editorials and commentary were rampant in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Public Radio and others touting ethanol as a worse polluter than gasoline.
Many scientists challenged Searchinger's work and methodology and assumptions and still others indicated that the science on this was not yet mature. It made no matter. In the court of public opinion, ethanol was excoriated, judged, found guilty and condemned. As a result, California CARB, EPA and others included ILUC in their calculations and standards.
Fortunately, ethanol industry leaders have persevered and continued to pressure EPA and CARB and others to continue to refine the science, fill in the gaps and add missing data to the poor methodology and work done by Mr. Searchinger. Current estimates have decreased ILUC estimates more than 87 percent since Searchinger's work just two years ago. Click here for a summary comparison of different estimates.
It is both illuminating and disappointing to review what has transpired since. Illuminating-in that the updated results clearly show significant flaws in the early work and indeed-ethanol does have a much better greenhouse gas profile than gasoline and in fact it continues to improve, while gasoline refined from petroleum will only decline.
And it's disappointing for two reasons. First, the new information has been virtually ignored. The old information continues to be widely quoted-"ethanol has a worse greenhouse gas profile than gasoline" and is believed to be true by many in the general public.
The second disappointment is similar. Where are the headlines and commentary in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and National Public Radio? They were quick to report the negative, but have ignored the positive information. If they're looking for a villain, they need look no further than those that fed them the original myths and question their true motives.
Ethanol has a much better greenhouse gas profile than gasoline. That is a fact. For that matter, it also has a much better net energy profile than gasoline and in the current environment is much cheaper to produce. Those are facts. Apparently the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (and many others in the popular media) are not interested in facts; they'll just continue the smear of ethanol manufactured by the oil and food industry sharks.