Reuters retracts inaccurate article on ethanol GHG emissions

By Erin Voegele | September 26, 2022

Reuters on Sept. 23 retracted an article originally published on Sept. 8 that made highly misleading claims about the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of U.S. ethanol plants. Reuters said it withdrew the article “because of its flawed interpretation of data on ethanol-plant pollution and fuel-production capacity,” which “led to inaccurate estimates of carbon emissions for individual ethanol plants named in the story.”

The Sept. 8 article, in part, cited the widely discredited study by Tyler Lark and others that was published in February 2022. Lark’s research has been specifically criticized by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Perdue University, and the University of Illinois for using questionable assumptions, double counting emissions, and using outdated and inaccurate projections.  The Sept. 8 article also mischaracterized the “grandfathering provisions” implemented by the U.S. EPA when the Renewable Fuel Standard was expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and misrepresented the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of several ethanol plants, including those owned by ADM, Green Triangle Energy, Central Indiana Ethanol, Green Plains Inc., and Marquis Energy.

The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy are among the organizations to originally speak out against the inaccurate Reuters report. 

“The original story relied on an incorrect assumption that an ethanol facility’s actual production always matches its nameplate capacity,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “In reality, this is rarely the case, and a facility’s actual output often exceeds nameplate capacity. The story also overlooked the fact that many ethanol facilities make more than fuel ethanol. Many facilities make alcohol for beverages, sanitizers, disinfectants, and other products that have no role in the RFS program. Together, these errors led to faulty calculations of GHG emissions attributable to fuel ethanol production. We greatly appreciate Reuters’ willingness to engage in further discussion and take another look at the facts and data. The organization deserves credit for its efforts to get this story right.

“Countering this particular article was important to us because the reporter initially got so much wrong, and we knew the main conclusion or talking point—as far-fetched it was—would be used as just another a stick with which to beat the industry,” Cooper continued. “We always strive to be available and willing to discuss often-complex ethanol policy, regulatory, and technical issues with members of the news media.”

“Early on Growth Energy learned of this story taking shape and immediately reached out to dispute her argument and outline the well-established flaws of the data assumptions being made,” said Growth Energy in a statement. “More importantly, we worked with our member companies represented in the Reuters piece to effectively and efficiently correct the record, which resulted a complete retraction of the story.”