by Jan Baughman
Grassroots - adjective: Of, pertaining to, or involving the common people, esp. as contrasted with or separable from an elite: a grassroots movement for nuclear disarmament.
(Swans - September 10, 2007) In contrast to Gilles d'Aymery's recent analysis of the myth of ethanol as a viable alternative fuel and its detrimental effect on food production and prices, (see Deceitful Solutions To America's Energy Dependence, March 2007) a July 17, 2007, press release caught my attention. It was titled, "New Issue Brief Highlights Minimal Impact of Ethanol on Food Price," and it began by stating:
The production of ethanol from corn has had minimal, if any, impact on consumer food prices while reducing fuel costs to consumers across the country, according to a new study released here today.
U.S. Senator E. Benjamin Nelson (D-NE), Chairman of the Ethanol Across America education campaign, hailed a new Issue Brief addressing these issues as a calm voice in a debate that has become confused due to misinformation.
"America's farmers are the most efficient and productive in the world," said Senator Nelson. "With this new demand will come increased yields and a likely leveling of prices. Even a recent study by critics of the corn ethanol industry concedes that the level of production we are calling for in Congress should not appreciably affect corn prices." [...]
The Issue Brief, which is a compilation of existing data and research, makes the point that while corn prices have indeed nearly doubled in the past year, according to the U.S Commerce Department's Consumer Price Index (CPI), food costs have increased just 2%, which is less than their historical average of 2.9% per year. And, during this time, petroleum prices increases have had an even greater impact due to higher costs of bringing products to market and food processing.
So the report concludes that ethanol production from corn is not impacting food prices, and in fact it is reducing fuel costs, and then blames the rise in food prices...to increased petroleum costs, which ethanol fuel is lauded to be countering.
The following day, July 18, the Consumer Price Index Summary JUNE 2007 was released, reporting figures that are far from the 2% increase in food costs claimed by the Issue Brief:
The food index rose at a 6.2 percent SAAR [seasonally adjusted annual rate] in the first half of 2007 and contributed about 17 percent to the overall CPI-U increase in the first six months. Grocery store food prices increased at a [sic] 8.0 percent annual rate in the first half of 2007, reflecting acceleration over the last year in each of the six major groups. These increases ranged from annual rates of 14.8 percent in the index for dairy products to 5.5 percent in the index for other food at home.
So just who is Ethanol Across America?
The EAA press release indicated that "Ethanol Across America is a non-profit, non-partisan education campaign of the Clean Fuels Foundation and is sponsored by industry, government, and private interests."
A perusal of their Web site revealed little information about who they are; i.e., whose interests they represent. According to their contact page, headed "The Power of Knowledge",
Ethanol Across America is the only ethanol program dedicated to grassroots education and consumer awareness. This program is not constricted by political or business interests. The goal is not to be politically correct or sensitive to particular businesses interests. The message is untainted; it is bipartisan and has the national interest at heart without regard to special interest pressures or obstacles. The message is simple. More ethanol and less imported oil are good for the United States -- and you. Ethanol Across America is about democracy, the freedom to choose in a free market and creating access to enough credible information to make an educated decision. The program is about science and truth helping the consumer triumph over propaganda special interest politics.
Ethanol Across America is a non-partisan, non-profit public outreach and education program of the Clean Fuels Foundation. U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), Co-Chairman, Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) Co-Chairman.
Senators Nelson and Burns are joined by Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) on the organization's advisory committee. Democracy, freedom, free market, truth, triumph over propaganda special interest politics... One has to wonder how an organization "sponsored by industry, government, and private interests," can help "the consumer triumph over propaganda special interest politics"... Wanting more information, I sent the following e-mail to the organization:
I was looking for more information about who is behind your efforts; specifically, what industries/companies and what offices of the government are funding your efforts?
San Francisco, CA
I received the following unsigned response from "Durantes":
perhaps you can tell me if you are a friend or foe?
To which I replied,
Hello. I am neither. I am trying to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of ethanol. There is much conflicting information presented so it helps to consider the source.
I never heard back from Durantes, having presumably been relegated to the "foe" category.
"Durantes" is perhaps Steven Durantes, brother of EAA's Director, Douglas Durante.
So just who is the Durante family?
They are Durante Associates Inc.:
DOUGLAS A. DURANTE is President and Chief Operating Officer for Durante Associates and is the founder and Executive Director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC), a non-profit organization supporting clean transportation fuels such as renewable alcohols and ethers. This organization has a broad-based membership that includes automotive, agricultural, and engineering organizations throughout the country.
Mr. Durante has been working in the fields of energy, transportation, and the environment since 1977 when he was a staff member of the National Transportation Policy Study Commission for Congress. He later became the Director of Public Affairs for the National Alcohol Fuels Commission established by Congress and chaired by U.S. Senator Birch Bayh. He served an assignment as a special assistant in the Office of Alcohol Fuels for the U.S. Department of Energy. Mr. Durante has been involved in a number of legislative initiatives at the federal level for energy, transportation, and public works projects related to areas such as alternative fuels, coal slurry pipelines, international trade, agriculture, and tax policy.
Raymond Durante, Chairman of the Board, has over 50 years of professional experience and has held senior management positions in industry and the federal government. The most noteworthy of these include: design and project engineering on the Savannah River Project and Nuclear Submarine Program, Industry Exchange Executive for the U.S. Department of Interior, Vice President for Energy Programs for Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Executive Vice President of the Schneider Group of Pittsburgh, and currently President of Durante Associates, Inc.
Other Principles and Associates bring experience from Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., "a multi-billion dollar corporation," Cornhusker Energy ethanol facility in Lexington, Nebraska, the US Marine Corps, the US Department of Energy, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the IBEX Group, Inc., EBASCO Services, Inc., and General Motors.
So, grassroots education and consumer awareness? A program "not constricted by political or business interests"? Not "politically correct or sensitive to particular businesses interests"? "Untainted, bipartisan and has the national interest at heart without regard to special interest pressures or obstacles"?
Durante Associates' slogan is "Bringing Washington To You."
According to their Web page on ethanol:
As the founder and managing entity for the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, Durante Associates personnel have been involved in virtually every major legislative and regulatory initiative affecting the ethanol industry since its inception 25 years ago. The firm has a detailed knowledge of the legislative process as it affects ethanol, as well as the federal agency programs that implement policy. The firm works directly with members of Congress and agency personnel on these issues. In addition, an increasing role in recent years by state governments in these programs has resulted in significant interaction with Governors and state energy, agriculture, and air quality officials.
On the production side, with a mature, corn based industry providing much of the product throughout the Midwest, other regions of the country are anxious to achieve some of the economic benefits those Midwestern states are experiencing. New technologies including acid and enzymatic hydrolysis, gasification, and hybrid combinations may unlock the hidden potential of cellulosic biomass. Durante Associates has worked with many of the major firms developing these technologies and currently represents two such firms.
And, of note:
Durante Associates is an authorized contract holder with the United States General Services Agency as part of the "GSA Advantage" program, contract #GS10FO480M. As such, the firm has pre approved labor rates for use on all government contracts and subcontracts. This enables the company to meet the requirements for government contract awards with a minimum amount of time and paperwork, and in most cases does not require negotiation. Durante Associates is prepared to work on a fixed price basis, cost plus fee, or on a time and material basis to suit the client's requirements. As a subcontractor on a government contract, Durante Associates will comply with all requirements of the prime contract.
Not only have food prices increased with the diversion of corn to ethanol production, the enthusiasm to jump on the ethanol bandwagon is also impacting the cost of land in the Corn Belt, keeping young farmers out of the competition and making it difficult, if not impossible, for existing farmers to expand. According to a recent New York Times article ("Ethanol Is Feeding Hot Market for Farmland," Monica Davey, August 8, 2007), the price of prime farmland in central Illinois has risen to $5,000 per acre from $3,000 per acre in five years, land values in Nebraska rose 17 percent in the past year, and land values close to ethanol plants have increased by as much as 30% in the past year.
One can only conclude that it is corporate profits and not the well being of the average farmer, nor national interests, that Ethanol Across America has at heart. Just as the American farmer was exploited to garner popular support for cuts to the estate tax, a policy that primarily benefits the wealthy, so too is the farmer being used to promote the production of ethanol, which benefits corporations. The promotion of ethanol as a reasonable solution to our dependence on oil -- whether foreign or domestic -- comes not from grassroots, environmentally-minded organizations such as Greenpeace but from corporate agricultural interests, Washington lobbyists, and politicians whose states have a financial stake in the production of corn. As I stated to Mr. Durante, it helps to consider the source when attempting to understand the issue.
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