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Weiland Opposes Apparent Obama Signal to Reduce Ethanol Use

This could be complicated.

Rick Weiland sent out a press release Monday "hammering" (that's Team Weiland's word) the Obama Administration for considering a "stupid" (that's also Team Weiland's word) reduction in the ethanol mandate. Weiland included a copy of the EPA draft memo leaked last month that suggests cutting the amount of ethanol required in motor fuel blends in the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standards.

The biofuels industry is in full propaganda response mode. Weiland sounds rather fired up himself:

"If you ever thought big money special interests control only the Republican Party," Weiland said, "this is the proof that you are wrong. Big oil has been trying to gut the renewable fuels industry for years. They have poured millions of the dollars they steal from us at the pump into high priced lobbying and huge political contributions. Now, it appears the EPA will soon cave into pressure from oil companies and propose a cut in ethanol use next year of around 1.4 billion gallons. They will pretend it's needed to give oil companies more time to adjust to higher ethanol blends like E15, but that's hogwash. This is Big Oil’s payoff," Weiland charged [Rick Weiland, press release, 2013.11.11].

There's no doubt that Big Oil would like to see the government stop favoring a competing product. But Big Oil, like Tea Partiers and a broken clock, can be right a couple times a day. Right on top of Weiland's call for keeping ethanol in our gas tanks, this detailed AP report says President Obama's ethanol push has done enormous harm to the prairie:

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama's watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can't survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact [Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo, "The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama's Green Push," Associated Press, 2013.11.12].

So you have the liberal media saying President Obama sold out prairie and wetlands to the ethanol lobby. You have Rick Weiland saying that, in backing away from ethanol, President Obama would be selling out to Big Oil. Partisans, call me when you sort out your loyalties there.

Weiland is clearly placing his chips with South Dakota's ethanol backers. I'm curious: will any other Senate candidates oppose him and make the case that ethanol is bad for the land that we've turned into a fuel factory? Or will Weiland's declaration on ethanol be a moot point in a Senate race where everyone seeks distance from a President who may be changing his mind?


  1. interested party 2013.11.12

    they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

  2. sdakota 2013.11.12

    Within the last month or so, gas stations I patronize which had not previously sold the ethanol-blended product have now switched to having only that product for sale.

    Just curious whether this is going on in a wide-spread way and, if so, if anyone knows why?

  3. Nick Nemec 2013.11.12

    The reason why 5 million acres set aside for conservation have vanished is because Congress decided to eliminate the funding for the Conservation Reserve Program. That's the program where the government enters into long term contracts with farmers to retire farmland and plant it to permanent cover. If large scale conservation is important, pay for it.

  4. Dyna 2013.11.12

    This story indeed seems to be a big oil plant- I'm seeing it in Florida papers this morning! And since when did big oil give a damn about the environment?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.12

    Good point on CRP, Nick. The AP article mentions that funding cut as a big contributing factor to wetlands loss.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.12

    Dyna, the article does feel remarkably advocative for a straight news piece. It could well be a Big Oil plant. But could this be an uncomfortable situation where conservationists would find themselves agreeing with Exxon? What facts do Cappiello and Apuzzo get wrong? Could we keep ethanol in the mix at current levels and solve the problem of farming marginal lands simply by restoring CRP? Or is getting off oil so important that we have to sacrifice prairie and wetlands?

  7. Jerry 2013.11.12

    Bring back the plowed up lands to a more natural state, eliminate the toxic chemicals needed to grow the fuel then we would have cheaper and more food, more wildlife, cleaner water and cleaner air. What is their not to like about that?

  8. Charlie Johnson 2013.11.12

    ??---Is raising corn as a major mono crop really renewable? With the heavy need for fertilizers and chemicals, can we grow a corn crop without them tomorrow? What happens if this country is cut off from the major P & K sources in other far away countries? The cartel that controls those sources is far tighter and stronger than the middle east oil interests. We may think fertilizer originates at the local co-op plant but in reality it starts it's journey in faraway countries.

  9. Dyna 2013.11.12

    Given the current glut of corn, If any farmers planted corn on former CRP land, it was a dumb business move...

    As for the loss of habitant and reputed environmental damage, I suspect the loss of farmland to urbanization has taken far more acres. Yes, I've seen some dumb farmers do dumb stuff like tearing out shelter belts to add a few rows, but I live in "corn country" here in Lyon County, MN and I haven't seen any big loss of CRP acreage to corn.

    Thus I suspect this is more of big oil's campaign to kill their biofuel competition in their infancy, aided by some sellout "environmentalists".

  10. Porter Lansing 2013.11.12

    Without subsidies and mandates corn would "pop". Colorado's latest cash crop (hemp) has a gigantic upside but as always, farmers will get screwed in the end. Can't forget the Jimmy Carter and wheat to the Russians debacle.

  11. sdakota 2013.11.12

    Muchas gracias for a link with such a comprehensive answer to my question, CAH.

  12. Bill Dithmer 2013.11.12

    Porter you are right about hemp. The US could be energy independent, if the laws were changed.

    The reservations could be cash solvent, if the laws were changed.

    We could stop all that erosion that big oil is complaining about now, if the laws were changed.

    What is imported now could then be exported but in much higher numbers, if the laws were changed.

    The vast amounts of water that are being used today for irrigation could then be used for other things like quenching the thirst of millions of people that are running out of the new gold, "water," if the laws were changed.

    And the chemicals that are needed now to produce a cash crop to fuel the ethanol industry would no longer be needed to grow hemp, if the laws were changed.

    Hemp, however, remains illegal under federal law, a potential brake on its development value.

    The new state regulations call for farmers to register and pay a $200 annual fee, plus $1 per acre planted. Farms will be subject to inspections to make sure that the hemp contains no more than 0.3% THC.

    If it weren't for William Randolph Hearst and his greed we would still be raising this cash crop. It was all about wood paper then, it's all about oil now.

    The Blindman

  13. Porter Lansing 2013.11.12

    @Mr. Dithmer: The first semi-legal crop of hemp was just harvested in CO. When the voters legalized recreational marijuana last Nov. the hemp was but a sidebar to the new Constitutional amendment. With Pres. Obama's pledge to not instruct the feds to interfere 3 hemp oil processing plants are in production. Soon the square state will have as many as SoDak has ethanol plants...and the product needs no subsidies or mandates. The good times are now!

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.13

    Hemp oil—bring it on, Colorado!

  15. Lanny V Stricherz 2013.11.13

    Lost in this discussion of the subject, is the fact that in the early part of this year, we had a big broo ha ha in Eastern SD over the fact that 85 octane, or actually less than 87 octane gas was illegally being sold. The word was out that if we were not willing to accept that, the Wyoming refiners would no longer service areas east of the River. The Governor and others made some noise and the problem went away. Now we are getting the 85 (or less) octane but blending it with ethanol to get the octane up to 87 (to be acceptable to manufacturers standards. So my question is where did all of this lower octane gasoline come from all of a sudden, since we never heard of it before last winter?

  16. Douglas Wiken 2013.11.13

    Use wind energy to produce methanol or anhydrous ammonia locally. No need for all those power lines exporting cheap energy to the coasts.

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