General Clark's Ethanol March

General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, is now a flag carrier for the ethanol industry. In remarks at the National Press Club on Friday, Clark was pushing for the maximum allowed blend of ethanol in gasoline to be increased from 10 to 15 percent. He said the move would create 136,000 new jobs and $24.4 billion in economic growth. However, critics say the proposed increase is far more vital to the bottom line of the struggling ethanol industry than it is to the national unemployment rate.

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General Wesley Clark argues on behalf of the ethanol industry for an increase of ethanol content in gasoline.

The future of ethanol in the United States is looking bleak these days. Gas prices are low, industry leaders like VeraSun are going under, plants are idling, and a host of new projects have been put on hold or canceled entirely.

In California, regulators are attempting to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent in the coming decade, but lower carbon levels won’t be counted.
The California Air Resources Board made that decision after investigating the total emissions from ethanol at every step of production, including the growth of the raw materials it’s made from. Their study confirmed what others have already concluded: that there is a net increase in greenhouse gases when ethanol is substituted for gasoline. The finding has come under heavy protest from the industry.

What’s more, the Obama administration seems considerably less sympathetic to the sector than many had expected. (Ethanol was largely excluded from the stimulus bill, while the solar and wind industries enjoyed significant subsidies.) It’s looking less and less likely that ethanol use in America will more than triple by 2022, as mandated in President Bush’s Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

All Roads Lead to Washington

A number of organizations in Washington representing farmers and the producers are committed to not only keeping corn ethanol afloat, but ensuring that cellulosic ethanol doesn’t get left out of America’s green energy portfolio. Growth Energy, the group behind Friday’s Press Club event, has recruited an impressive lineup of Beltway players, including Clark, Tom Buis (the former president of the National Farmers Union) and former Congressman Jim Nussle.

Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, and several dozen other trade groups are digging in their heels and crossing their fingers in hopes that the legalization of E15—a 15-percent blend of ethanol to gasoline—coupled with a steady uptick in pump prices might give new life to the struggling ethanol industry.

But since the remedy the industry seeks can only come from the EPA and not from Congress, there is relatively little that the ethanol lobby can do beyond holding press events. None of
President Obama’s top energy appointees have an affinity for corn ethanol—currently the only widely used biofuel in the United States—and there would be little current benefit to a cellulosic fuel industry that hardly exists yet.

Still, it is the industry’s overwhelming presence on K Street and ability to win over big name supporters like General Clark, Senator Tom Harkin, and Rahm Emanuel that has gotten it this far. For ethanol producers, all roads to future profitability clearly run through Washington.

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  • crookmatt

    Enthanol is not necesserally a bad idea, but CORN based ethanol is a waste. If cellulosic ethanol can actually be developed and become economically viable (which should reduce Green House Gas emissions by 90% over Gasoline, in constrast to Corn Ethanol which actually increases GHG emisions over Gasonline) then I would be all for ethanol, but until it switches to something other than Corn–it’s a waste.

  • Paul Beerkens

    Matthew, I am sure what you are saying is correct but it there a link to read more about this claim that other ethanol sources can reduce emission by 90%?

  • Samie

    E85, ethanol, & biofuel are all short-term ideas that get us nowhere! No that’s not popular to say many disagree without looking at land consequences, pubic markets (imports & futures), total energy production/consumption, global geopolitical issues, government waste (w/ long-term special interest groups), or being stuck with another fuel source. Wonder why some in Washington like this?

    “Their study (California Air Resources Board) confirmed what others have already concluded: that there is a net increase in greenhouse gases when ethanol is substituted for gasoline. The finding has come under heavy protest from the industry.” Short-term ideas/quick get rich schemes are not what it takes to develop long-term solutions.

  • Anonymous

    Is clark now an expert? Give the tax payers a break. Die ethanol die die die!!!!!

  • Scott

    Careful what you use as “fact” — such as the “fact” that ethanol increases more GHG as compared to gasoline. There are sevearal studies that show ethanol (corn-based) is an overwhelming GHG winner compared to gasoline – even considering land use change. Do you only choose the set of “facts” you like best? Keep an open mind.

  • Freeranger

    Does ethanol make sense? Here’s the ultimate test. End the mandates, end the tariffs, end the tax credits, end the blenders credit and see how much ethanol is produced…I thought so.

    Beyond the tiny amount needed to replace MTBE, ethanol makes no sense whatsoever.

  • Samie


    I would love to see those studies and who actually funds them. Also calculating transportation and the energy used to grow and harvest stock would be nice to see. The rate of combustion I know at least with corn is lower compared to petroleum resulting in less MPGs. You only focus on one part of the issue, hypothetically speaking if GHG was less so what there are many more issues besides GHG to deal with in ramping up production of ethanol.

  • Anon Imus

    Disappointing to see General Clark become a lobbying corporate shill, selling his good name to the highest bidder. I wonder how much they’re paying him to publicly soil himself over a lost cause. I guess it was either this or do ads for Clark bars. Very sad.

  • Anon Imus

    the caption under the photo should read
    “General Clark shows the world the size of his integrity”

  • Ronald Adamowicz

    The truth is cellulosic ethanol is currently backed by billions in investments, the industry will survive and grow. Verenium and BP are currently partnered to build a 36 million gallons a year cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands Florida. The Highland Ethanol LLC Plant will use waste Energy Crops for feedstock.

    The White House connection:

    Dr. Steven Chu is now the new Secretary of Energy, his past research is celluloisc ethanol, he worked side by side with a company called Diversa (now Verenium). He will guarantee cellulosic ethanol moves forward very quickly with funding from DOE.

  • Bobbi

    That Chronicle article didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

  • Fred Linn

    Growing corn does not produce GHG. Burning petroleum does.

    According to the Argonne National Labratory, it takes 1.23 BTUs of energy in crude oil to produce 1 BTU of energy as gasoline. Whether it is produced in California, or anywhere else. It only takes .73 BTUs to produce 1 BTU of energy with corn ethanol.

    When ethanol is produced from corn, every bushel of corn(56 lbs) has a final product of about 32 lbs of DDG(dried distillers grain)—-high protein, high grade animal feed, and three gallons of ethanol. Dent Field Corn(98% of the corn grown in the US, humans can not eat Dent Corn, it is raised to feed meat, egg and dairy animals) is 2-4% protein, DDG is 25-30% protein.

    When you refine crude oil you get fuel.

    When you produce ethanol from corn, you get food and fuel. If you put the animal waste that you get back from the animals you fed the DDG to into an anaerobic digester—you get methane(biogas)—-and what remains is fertilizer.

    The same corn produces animal feed, ethanol, methane, fertilizer——and the stover(all none grain parts of the plant) can be pelletized and used directly as a biomass fuel. There will be several hundred pounds of stover for every bushel of corn produced.

    The answer to GHG being produced when corn is grown and ethanol is produced—–don’t use petroleum, then there is no GHG.