Lawmakers defend corn ethanol

By Erin Voegele | October 06, 2009
Report posted Nov. 4, 2009, at 9:31 a.m. CST

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., challenged information presented in the opening statement of Rajiv Shah, USDA Undersecretary of Research, Education, and Economics, at a Oct. 29 House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on biofuels.

In his opening statement, Rajiv said that an increase in corn acreage has supported greater ethanol output. In response to this remark, Peterson said the agricultural industry cultivates virtually the same number of corn acres today that it did in 1977. While each acre of corn produced only an average of 90.8 bushels of corn at that time, Peterson said today's farmers produce an average of 164 bushels of corn per acre.

During his opening statement, Rajiv also said he believed in order to meet the mandates of the renewable fuels standard the federal government needs to expand its focus in the area of third-generation, drop-in fuels that can be used as direct substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. However, he also noted that the production of 9 billion gallons of first-generation biofuels has been a significant accomplishment, and a compliment to American farmers and the ethanol industry. In addition, Rajiv said that although the federal government has funded many worthy projects, not enough has been done to effectively integrate these efforts across government research agencies and there has been a lack of focus when it comes to developing biofuel supply chains.

In addition to challenging the corn acreage information presented by Rajiv, Peterson also drew attention to the negative press ethanol has received. He said it's no wonder that nobody seems to want to invest in ethanol given the information distributed by special interest groups. The people who want cellulosic ethanol to move forward, he said, need to realize that the corn ethanol industry is what is creating opportunity for second- and third-generation biofuels. "For people that are listening that have been on the other side of this and want to get to the next generation, I think you are doing us all a disservice by ginning up all these arguments that we have been hearing," he said.

The same day Peterson defended corn ethanol in the House, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, defended it in the Senate. In his speech, Grassley spoke out against the international indirect land use change provisions that are currently included in the U.S. EPA's proposed rule for the second stage of the renewable fuels standard. "The fact is, measuring indirect emissions of greenhouse gases is far from a perfect science," he said. "There is a great deal of complexity and uncertainty surrounding this issue."

Grassley also addressed the E15 fuel waiver that was filed with the EPA last spring. "The EPA's delay in considering this request is having a negative impact on U.S. ethanol producers and is harming consumers who would otherwise benefit from lower prices at the pump," he said. "The delay is also putting off our efforts to use more homegrown renewable fuels in place of imported fossil fuels."