Neutralizing negativity with facts

Oldtimers in the ethanol industry will tell you misinformation campaigns against ethanol are nothing new. That doesn't mean, however, that the current version of same can be ignored.
By Susanne Retka Schill | January 14, 2013

Oldtimers in the ethanol industry will tell you misinformation campaigns against ethanol are nothing new. That doesn’t mean, however, that the current version of same can be ignored.

Over a month ago, AAA came out with two warnings to consumers about E15 which were quickly denounced by the ethanol industry as based on falsehoods. Early in January, Fox Business News broadcast a report on the AAA warnings, amplifying the misinformation.

Marc Rauch, executive vice president/co-publisher of the Auto Channel, took them on in a rather lengthy report: “AAA Blunder on Ethanol Sets Off Firestorm of Criticism, Fox Business News Worsens the AAA Blunder with a Barrage of Stupidity.”   The piece includes a history of the Auto Channel coverage of the E15 challenge and a rather extensive exchange of emails between Rauch and a AAA spokesman. If you are following the issue, or would like to learn more about how to answer some of the misinformation out there, it’s worth a read.

A spokesman for the industry coalition, Fuels America sent me a link for their latest effort to counter misinformation, in this case, one originating from the poultry industry and a study by Thomas Elam on food prices. The article doesn’t spend much time repeating the study they are refuting, but it does lay out the arguments for the weak relationship between ethanol production and food prices.

When I thanked the Fuels America spokesman for the link, and said I was going to write this blog, he shared with me the backgrounder the Fuels America coalition distributed after the AAA announcement. In it are links to numerous original sources and material that back the ethanol industry’s claims that AAA’s warnings on E15 are bogus. Here’s the list of links:

- Extensive, peer-reviewed, standardized testing of 86 vehicles operated up to 120,000 miles by the U.S. Department of Energy finds no increased risk of engine damage from using E15 blends.  

- The EPA has extensively reviewed all available studies, and has approved the use of E15 in 2001 and newer model year cars and light-duty vehicles, as well as all model years of flex fuel vehicles.  

- Automotive engineering firm Ricardo, using EPA’s testing approach, says “…adoption and use of E15 would not adversely affect fuel system components in properly engineered vehicles, nor would it cause them to perform in a sub-optimal manner, when compared to the use of E10.”  

- NASCAR has run more than 3 million miles on Sunoco Green E15.  

- Ethanol from corn emits 30-50 percent fewer GHG emissions than gasoline, and improved efficiencies will reduce ethanol’s GHG impacts even further in the future.

- Ethanol readily biodegrades without harm to the environment – it is a safe, high-octane alternative for fuel.  

- Ethanol reduced gasoline prices by $1.09 per gallon in 2011.  

- Several studies on E15 compliance with the Clean Air Act show that it minimizes air pollution that can cause negative health effects.  

- See what members of the ethanol industry are saying about falsehoods leveled against E15:  and

One last thing to share, if you’re still with me after that rather exhausting list:

Steve Vander Griend, a fuel ethanol technical expert, emailed us at Ethanol Producer Magazine to say he totally agrees with what RFA, Growth Energy and ACE have said about the AAA report. But, he asks, “are we changing attitudes?”

Vander Griend says he talked to Michael Green of AAA the day the article was published at the very end of November. “Mr. Green has a master in communication but no technical knowledge,” he said. Two weeks later, Vander Griend followed up with a 90-minute call with Green and a AAA engineer. “They were totally unaware of many of the issues and for the most part were fed this anti-ethanol message and ran with it before even checking the facts.”

Vander Griend sees some of the messaging done by industry advocates as posturing for the benefit of their members that is not really effective in changing public opinion. “The only way we are going to change the message being sent by AAA, AMA, SEMA, Mercury Marine and the small engine folks is to discuss the facts with them. They are allowed to have their own opinion but not their own facts,” he says.

And, it’s the facts that just may be working. The first AAA report came out about seven weeks ago and hasn’t gained a lot of traction with widespread media coverage. Just maybe the swift industry reaction to supply solid background information refuting the arguments with a rather exhaustive list of links to reputable reports convinced reporters to not touch it. Neutralizing a negative report is an important victory.