No Excuse For Shoddy Journalism

  • Friday, 13 March 2015 00:00

After reading the USA Today’s editorial which attacks the ethanol industry baselessly, one wonders what has happened to journalistic standards.

There was a time when journalists had to actually research and check their facts. Granted, it was an editorial piece but if this is the official stance of the paper, then its readers should be worried.

In a piece titled, “End The Ethanol Mandate,” the paper repeats many of the same things said by Robert Bryce in his op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week.

But as Media Matters for America pointed out yesterday, Bryce’s Manhattan Institute has financial ties to the oil industry and plays pretty loose with the facts. USA Today must have missed that report because it goes on to ape many of the falsehoods Bryce said.

For example, it says a “gallon of ethanol is more expensive than a gallon of gasoline ($2.37 vs $1.73 wholesale).”

While the USA Today’s editorial board is separate from its newsroom, they could have at least asked their colleagues in the business section how the commodities market works, especially when the Chicago Merchantile Exchange (CME), where all commodities are traded, is publically accessible. Wholesale and spot prices for gasoline and ethanol are dictated by future prices on the exchange.

But we’re prepared to help USA Today’s editorial board out. Today, gasoline futures for delivery in March are being traded at $1.76 per gallon while ethanol is being traded at $1.44 per gallon. Furthermore, D6 RINs for ethanol are 43 cents which means the actual price of ethanol is $1.01 per gallon.

As the Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains, the RIN value reduces the effective price of ethanol. In fact, during the two months when ethanol prices were higher than gasoline, the EIA said RIN values rose in tandem thus keeping ethanol prices lower than gasoline.

EIA RIN price  ethanol

As noted above, that was in December and January when gasoline prices dropped dramatically. In general, ethanol – regardless of RIN prices – is cheaper than gasoline.

But instead of actually researching the issue, USA Today decided to go along with Bryce’s fiction. Another piece of his fiction they borrowed was how ethanol forces motorists to pay $10 billion more at the pump.

Again, simple logic based on the numbers above would tell you that ethanol actually lowers prices at the pump because it’s cheaper than gasoline. But don’t take our word for it. Iowa State University’s Center For Agriculture and Rural Development has said that ethanol saved consumers $1.09 per gallon on average in 2011.

Amazingly, USA Today also paints ethanol exports negatively.

“In fact, ethanol makers who once wrapped themselves in the flag are now shipping their product overseas.”

First of all, how is this a bad thing? If more countries use renewable fuels, it means there’s less burning of harmful fossil fuels. But let’s be clear on the ratio of exports to domestic consumption. Last year, production was 14.3 billion gallons of which 13.4 billion gallons was consumed domestically. In fact, if the EPA had stuck to the original renewable volume obligation for 2014 of 14.4 billion gallons, there would have probably have been fewer gallons exported.

Another bit of fiction spouted by USA Today was this : “While a gallon of ethanol emits fewer greenhouse gases than a gallon of gasoline, it is far dirtier after accounting for the energy used to till and fertilize the land used to produce it.”

USA Today doesn’t cite any scientific study to back this claim probably because they would have found that leading scientists such as those from the Argonne National Laboratory have said that greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from ethanol is, on average, 44 percent lower than gasoline. And this is based on a lifecycle analysis which takes into account emissions from farming all the way to its consumption as a motor fuel.

Even by incorporating land use changes, Argonne National Laboratory said GHG emissions from ethanol is 34 percent lower than gasoline.

USA Today also claims that increasing the ethanol blend in gasoline above 10 percent is something “Detroit says its cars can’t handle.” That’s funny because an analysis done by the RFA last year shows that both GM and Ford approved the use of E15 in all its new vehicles.

The USA Today editorial was carried alongside a pro-RFS editorial by the RFA’s Bob Dinneen to provide some balance. And while we applaud the paper’s attempt at keeping things balanced, it could have at least done some research before writing that editorial because that’s what journalists do. Even an editorial board has some responsibility at keeping up with common journalistic standards.