Ethanol industry uses veterans to promote federal biofuel mandate
Posted By Michael Bastasch On 12:34 PM 01/10/2014
The federal ethanol mandate will keep more U.S. soldiers from being killed in the Middle East. That’s the latest line of argument from the ethanol industry as the fuel’s environmental and climate benefits are increasingly disputed.
The ethanol industry has been turning to national security arguments to justify the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that requires 36 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into the fuel supply by 2022.
The progressive veterans group VoteVets.org announced on Tuesday a nearly $110,000 ad buy for a week of pro-RFS ads in Des Moines, Iowa and Washington, D.C. This ad buy comes during a time of increasing consensus among federal officials that the RFS needs to be reformed because it is straining the country’s refining capacity and harming the environment.
The ad features Iraq war veteran Michael Connolly, who argues that the RFS means less oil money is going abroad to America’s enemies who use funds to buy weapons to attack U.S. troops. In the ad he says the best way to support the troops is to use ethanol — use less oil and America’s enemies get less oil.
Connolly is not the first former serviceman to laud the benefits of ethanol. The ethanol industry has been invoking high-ranking military officers and veterans as a to highlight the national security argument for forcing refiners to blend ethanol into the fuel supply.
“I think you’re basically seeing a convergence of former military around the RFS issue right now, because it is soon to be decided by the EPA, and that’s clearly an issue of getting us off oil, which is important to a lot of former military,” VoteVets.org founder Jon Soltz told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Soltz was once quoted saying: “If they want to attack ethanol, that’s fine… but if you come after ethanol you’re supporting killing our troops.”
“A number of former military people have become very interested in renewable of all kinds, and have worked on the issue, as well as climate change,” Soltz added. “VoteVets, for instance, has been working on green energy for years now, before we ever got into the issue of the RFS or ethanol.”
General Wesley Clark, retired, is on the advisory board for VoteVets and is also a co-chair for Growth Energy, an advocacy group run by the ethanol industry. Clark was the supreme allied commander of NATO under President Clinton. He made a failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. His consultancy has also worked with Growth Energy in the past. Clark is also a senior advisor with Blackstone, which had investments in biofuel producers like Costaka.
Richard Beattie, a former Marine Corp jet pilot, also serves on the VoteVets advisory board. Beattie is a senior chairman at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (STB), which does work on ethanol markets.
For example, STB represented Credit Suisse Securities in a $167 million project with Abengoa Bioenergy financing ethanol facilities. STB also represented Biosev S.A. in a $332.2 million public offering to strengthen Biosev’s position in the Brazilian and international biofuels industry.
The ethanol lobby was delivered a political defeat this year when the Environmental Protection Agency scaled back the RFS in order to avert the “blendwall” — the point at which refiners can no longer blend ethanol into the fuel supply.
“We’re recognizing that the blend wall has been reached,” Christopher Grundler, head of the EPA’s transportation and air office, told senators in a hearing on the RFS. “Reaching the blend wall clearly presents constraints to using higher ethanol quantities because of the infrastructure and other market limitations.”
Ethanol supporters were also knocked off their feet when the Associated Press released a scathing report about the environmental damages caused by the rapidly expanding corn ethanol production.
The AP reported that 5 million acres of conservation land has been put into service since 2009, and more than 1.2 million acres of valuable “virgin land” in Nebraska and the Dakotas has been plowed into corn and soybean fields since 2006. Corn and soybean growers have also increased the use of toxic fertilizers that have been known to cause “blue baby syndrome” in children when it gets into drinking water.
“It is harming as many farmers as it helps, [and] is becoming obsolete as an energy independence resource and increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Scott Faber, president of the Environmental Working Group, whose group is part of a broad coalition pushing RFS reform.