Ag Secretary Vilsack: ‘I don’t know’ whether ethanol helps climate

The Associated Press is out with a big new investigation concluding that U.S. ethanol policy is taking a heavy toll on U.S. lands and waters while offering dubious climate benefits.

Among the morsels in AP’s probe: Pro-ethanol Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack doesn’t try to make the case that the fuel helps battle climate change.

“I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument,” Vilsack tells AP. “To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”

A separate Agriculture Department official told AP he’s surprised at how much fragile land has been turned into cornfields – and then got an email ordering him to stop talking.

Overall, the story explores conservation and virgin lands given over to corn planting, waters polluted by fertilizer, and questionable climate benefits from ethanol.

“[T]he ethanol era has proved far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today,” AP reports.

AP’s report traces the effects of a 2007 law that required a major expansion in the amount of ethanol and other biofuels in the U.S. motor fuel mix.

The ethanol industry is pushing back hard against the story.

The Renewable Fuels Association, a major ethanol trade group, said the story “vilifies the ethanol industry and omits hordes of facts about its environmental impact.”