A Closer Look At Who Is Attacking Renewable Fuels

Source: By Brooke Coleman, Forbes • Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

It is always disappointing to see Big Oil-funded “scholars” perpetuation of myths about the U.S. biofuels industry. Unfortunately, Jared Meyer’s and Robert Bryce’s Forbes piece, “Politicians Love Burning Food for Fuel,” does just that.

People need to understand that the oil and biofuel industries are staunch competitors battling for market share. In little more than a decade, biofuel industry motor fuel market share has risen from near zero to more than 10%. Several hundred U.S. biorefineries now dot the American landscape from California to New York, churning out U.S. manufacturing jobs and new biofuel blends that could soon give consumers real choice at the pump.

Biomass fuel production power station. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Consumer choice is the bane of the oil industry’s existence because their incredible profits rely on consumers not having one. Americans transferred nearly $1 trillion overseas in less than a year during the oil price spike of 2008, often to Middle Eastern countries hostile to ours, because oil was the only way to keep our vehicles moving.

The policy that stands between oil and biofuels 

The focal point of the battle between oil and biofuels is a federal policy requiring oil companies to use renewable fuel, called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Democrats and Republicans passed the law a decade ago because oil has a monopoly, monopolies are costly for consumers, and policy is necessary to fix the problem.

But the oil industry is smart when faced with a challenge. They know that if they can weaken political support for the RFS, they can regain control of the gas pump and charge what they want.

One of the best ways to weaken political support for any policy is to roll out independent-sounding experts to say it’s a bad idea. Enter Jared Meyer, a Forbes contributor, and Robert Bryce, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

A closer look at who is attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard 

The Manhattan Institute bills itself as a “nonpartisan, independent research and educational organization” but is in fact funded by the Koch Brothers and Big Oil. Over the past few years, the Manhattan Institute’s “Center for Energy Policy,” of which Bryce is a senior fellow, has received at least $800,000 from ExxonMobil alone. The Manhattan Institute as a whole has received over $1.9 million from the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, where Charles Koch and his wife sit on the board.

Not surprisingly, Robert Bryce routinely writes op-eds attacking the viability of renewable energy and promoting Big Oil. Bryce often points to the tax breaks received by renewable energy, while turning a blind eye to the much larger ones offered to fossil fuels for the better part of a century. On renewable fuels, he’s regularly quoted as an “energy expert” or “senior energy fellow,” without reference to his oil industry ties or conflict of interest.

The biofuel myths spread by oil advocates like Meyer and Bryce are comical when investigated. Meyer and Bryce say the use of corn for ethanol drives up corn prices and food prices, except corn prices are lower today than when the RFS was passed, and food industry profits are soaring. Higher ethanol blends will ruin your car, they say, except that the Department of Energy found no problems in 86 cars tested for 120,000 miles each. Oil even pays academics to say that biofuels are worse for climate change than gasoline, including those cited by Bryce, except that the U.S. EPA, the California Air Resources Board and the National Laboratories all say they are wrong.

Oil is getting dirtier while biofuels are getting cleaner

If there is one argument more disingenuous than most, it is Bryce’s claim that biofuels like ethanol pollute the air. In actuality, ethanol displaces the most toxic, carcinogenic compounds in gasoline, like benzene. Using more ethanol also displaces the need for the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive sources of oil in the world, such as tar sands and fracked oil. As pointed out in a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, oil is getting dirtier by the day, and biofuels are getting cleaner. In fact, a biorefinery in Iowa now produces cellulosic ethanol that is 126% better than gasoline on greenhouse gases – a true carbon sink.

Next time you are reading a hit piece on ethanol or other biofuels, check the source. The renewable fuels industry is a target for a reason. It just may not be the reason you were thinking.

Mr. Coleman is executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council (ABBC).