Strib series on Ethanol

Last September, the Star Tribune did a series of articles on ethanol called The Great Corn Rush. I didn’t read the articles then but now that the issue is dominating here at Locally Grown, I’m suddenly interested. In case you’re like me, I thought I’d post the links to the articles, graphics, and video clips which all still available on their web site.

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A month earlier, business columnist Neal St. Anthony wrote a column titled

If you’ve got criticisms of the Strib’s coverage, feel free to attach comments here.

4 thoughts on “Strib series on Ethanol”

  1. I can tell you the the Strib reporters on this story (who asked that their bylines not be included on the final version in print)interviewed me and other outdoor air and alternative fuel staff at the American Lung Association of Minnesota many times for more than three months — and used virtually nothing of the information we provided.

    I guess the information we provided (how much air pollution is reduce using E85 vs. gasoline, the private/public partnership that built the nation’s first practical alt fuel network. etc) didn’t match the editorial conclusion the newspaper had reached before it assigned reporters to the story.

    I talk with reporters for a living, so I know the difference between providing good, solid facts and PR puffery. The Strib got the facts. They just choose to ignore them.

    Fortunately, many Minnesota drivers contine to choose clean air choices (pardon the plug for our website) such as E85, biodiesel and mass transit. (PS: Those hybrids are pretty nice, too!)

  2. The first two articles are pretty much a straightforward report on the growth of the ethanol refining business in Minnesota, and how it grew. Then in the remaining articles, there is a strong editorialized slant to the following conclutions:

    * ethanol fuel is subsidized by taxpayers (well, yeah. So are roads.)
    * the EPA is lostening the rules to help the ethanol industry. More of a federal than local issue. We at the American Lung Association are for tighter standards (we just successfully sued the EPA on particulate pollution enforcement). Actually, a study of the now-defunct Gopher State Ethanol plant in downtown St. Paul led to TOUGHER ethanol plant emmision standards nationwide.
    * Finally, the series vitually ignored ethanol’s biggest success story in Minnesota — the 300+ E85 outlets that sell more of the cleaner-burning fuel (est. 20 million gallons in 2006!) than anywhere else. They instead called E85 hard to find, little understood, etc. To prove their point, they profiled a woman in Illinois whose car saleman didn’t like E85, and were it was available locally. Illinois!

    I have never recieved a satisfactory answer why, in a profile on ethanol in Minnesota, the paper would choose to interview the owner of a flex fuel vehicle in Illinois. The paper did not publish my submitted rebutal.

    We at ALAMN are NOT ethanol (corn or cellulose) cheerleaders. We are advocates for clean air, and since vehicle emmisions are the single largest source of outdoor air pollution in Minnesota, biofuel are just one of many solutions we support.

  3. Bob,

    I see your Lung Association website gives the old USDA corn ethanol energy balance figure of l.67. Maybe Star Trib considered it outdated. Other reports are more conservative. The Hill, Tilman, Nelson, Polasky and Tiffany report says ethanol yields 25% more energy than the energy invested in its production. Have you read it?

    The 25% is due to credit given to the by-product (distillers grains) used for livestock feed. Without the carbohydrare/sugar content, though, it has limited use in livestock feed.

    You should be aware that even Minnesota Ag Commissioner Hugoson, who with Gov. Pawlenty was heavily touting corn ethanol, is trying to move people toward cellulosic. Nobody wants to be in the red-face department when it becomes clear that corn ethanol is not what it’s cracked up to be (no pun intended).

    Yes, problems at the Gopher State plant drew national attention. But EPA is now bending over backward to accommodate ethanol by proposing rule changes to allow plants to more than double the amount of chemicals they put in the air before they are subject to closer monitoring. The Star Trib did good coverage on the pollution aspect.

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