Commentary: White House Renewable Fuels Policy Raises Questions (via Roll Call)

Last May, Reuters ran two articles about the White House’s pending decision on the renewable-fuel standard, which federally mandates how much biofuel must be blended into the transportation fuel supply in the United States.

The first Reuters article reported that an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to scale back the RFS — by cutting the amount of biofuels in our nation’s fuel supply in 2014 — was the result of a secret deal cut between the Carlyle Group, Delta Airlines, two congressmen, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other high-level administration officials. Both Carlyle and Delta own oil refineries and stand to gain financially from the EPA’s proposed cuts to the RFS in 2014.

The second Reuters article highlighted a waiver inserted into the RFS — presumably also at the behest of Carlyle and Delta — that would allow the oil companies to refuse to sell biofuels.

What is so alarming about this situation is that absent this reporting, why the EPA proposed to dismantle the RFS would have been a mystery to everyone but a handful of politically connected lobbyists, a couple of congressman and senior administration officials. And, if these articles accurately reflect what is happening inside the President Barack Obama administration, it means the White House is seemingly altering our nation’s energy policy to benefit big oil, but is trying to do so in secret.

Based on the Reuters pieces and the fact that the Obama administration supported a robust implementation of the RFS until this year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington urged the EPA’s inspector general to investigate how the agency arrived at the unprecedented decision to water down the RFS. Additionally, CREW submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA to obtain records that would shed light on how and why the administration determined it was good policy to back away from the RFS.

Several months have elapsed, but the EPA has produced only a few unhelpful documents. As a result, CREW has sued the agency in federal court to force the release of records. Eventually, we expect to learn who was influencing the administration’s policies regarding the RFS, to what extent, and why.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre aspects of this situation is that although the year is drawing to a close, the 2014 standards still have not been released; the 2015 standards are due shortly. This suggests a political motive: Perhaps the White House did not want to release the 2014 RFS before the midterm elections to avoid being seen as siding with the oil industry against the biofuels industry.

Of course, the White House and the EPA should talk to representatives of the oil and biofuels sectors in determining the RFS, but decisions that dramatically impact our energy policy should be transparent. As Reuters revealed, Carlyle and Delta and their congressional supporters weighed in with top White House staff, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and economic advisers Ronald Minsk and Gene Sperling to weaken the RFS. Rep. Robert A. Brady contacted Biden to press the issue, he promised to look into it and lo and behold, problem solved. Seems like more of a back-room deal than open process.

Rather than engaging in months of legal wrangling to delay the inevitable release of the records CREW has sought, the EPA should immediately provide all relevant documents so Americans can decide for themselves whether the RFS changes have been politics or policy.

Melanie Sloan is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

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The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study (via Forbes)

Visit almost any anti-GMO website and you will find alarming headlines about the alleged dangers of GMO foods. They kill pigs, cows and sheep on farms and in lab studies! Humans are next!

Monsanto Monsanto’s GMO Feed Creates Horrific Physical Ailments in Animals,” screams a typical article, in AlterNet, a popular anti-GMO site. It touts “new research” but as is typical of such articles and such sites, it neither quotes a study nor links to any independent research.

Although there have been more than 2,000 studies documenting that biotechnology does not pose an unusual threat to human health and genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods, questions remain in the minds of many consumers.

What does the research say?

Animal feeding studies are the basis for evaluating the safety of GMO crops. One-off studies of lab animals have occasionally shown some problems. Gilles-Eric Séralini, in his retracted GM corn study (later republished in a non-peer-reviewed anti-GMO journal), claimed rats fed genetically engineered corn developed grotesque cancerous tumors—the kind no farmer would miss among his animals if this cause-effect was genuinely in place.

Anti-GMO crusader Jeffrey Smith, on his personal website, the Institute for Responsible Technology, lists more than a dozen cases in which he claims animals fed GMOs exhibited abnormal conditions, including cancer and early death. He also references his own self-published book, and anecdotal evidence that pigs fed GM feed turned sterile or had false pregnancies and sheep that grazed on BT cotton plants often died.

“Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study on GM foods shows adverse or unexplained effects,” he writes. “But we were not supposed to know about these problems…the biotech industry works overtime to try to hide them.”

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine—an alternative medicine group that rejects GMOs and believes that vaccines are dangerous—claims, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

Is there any basis to these allegations? After all, globally, food-producing animals consume 70% to 90% of genetically engineered crop biomass, mostly corn and soybean. In the United States alone, animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. The numbers are similar in large GMO producing countries with a large agricultural sector, such as Brazil and Argentina.

Estimates of the numbers of meals consumed by feed animals since the introduction of GM crops 18 years ago would number well into the trillions. By common sense alone, if GE feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed. Dead and sick animals would literally litter farms around the world. Yet there are no anecdotal reports of such mass health problems.

But we don’t need to depend on anecdotes to address these concerns. Writing in the Journal of Animal Science, in the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever conducted, University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam and research assistant Amy E. Young reviewed 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of genetically engineered animal feed. [NOTE: article is behind a paywall until October 1.]

The field data represented more than 100 billion animals covering a period before 1996 when animal feed was 100% non-GMO, and after its introduction when it jumped to 90% and more. The documentation included the records of animals examined pre and post mortem, as ill cattle cannot be approved for meat.

What did they find? That GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There was no indication of any unusual trends in the health of animals since 1996 when GMO crops were first harvested. Considering the size of the dataset, it can reasonably be said that the debate over the impact of GE feed on animal health is closed: there is zero extraordinary impact.

The Van Eenennaam study corresponds to other reviews of animal feeding data, some multi-generational and as long two years.

Several recent comprehensive reviews from various authors summarize the results of food-producing animal feeding studies with the current generation of GE crops (Deb et al., 2013; Flachowsky, 2013; Flachowsky et al., 2012; Tufarelli and Laudadio, 2013; Van Eenennaam, 2013). Studies have been conducted with a variety of food-producing animals including sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, quail, cattle, water buffalo, rabbits and fish fed different GE crop varieties. The results have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals were comparable with those fed near isogenic non-GE lines and commercial varieties.

Here is a comprehensive list of animal feeding studies. Many of these studies are independent. The list included systematic reviews, all of which conclude that GMO feed is safe.

As Dr. Steven Novella notes on his blog Neurologica:

[T]his data is observational, meaning the authors are looking at data collected out there in the world and not part of any controlled prospective experiment. Observational data is always subject to unanticipated confounding factors. However, robust observational data is still highly useful, and has the potential to detect any clear signals.

The findings also comport with long-term GMO feeding laboratory studies. The GENERA database, found at Biology Fortified online, lists more than three-dozen examples of multi-year studies. A recent review of 24 of these studies by Snell et. al found: “Results…do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.” There have been a few outlier studies, such as the retracted GMO corn research. But if Séralini’s data were real and 80% of food was poison, animals and people would be dropping like flies.

The authors also found no evidence to suggest any health affect on humans who eat those animals. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed.

In other words, the debate over the risks associated with GMO food is effectively over. As Novella writes:

We now have a large set of data, both experimental and observational, showing that genetically modified feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There does not appear to be any health risk to the animals, and it is even less likely that there could be any health effect on humans who eat those animals.

In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science.

FOLLOW @JonEntine on Twitter.

Senate GOP steeling for battle against EPA (via The Hill)

Senate Republicans are gearing up for a war against the Obama administration’s environmental rules, identifying them as a top target when they take control in January.

The GOP sees the midterm elections as a mandate to roll back rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, with Republicans citing regulatory costs they say cripple the economy and skepticism about the cause of climate change.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) identified his top priority come January as “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

McConnell made his defense of coal a major piece of Kentucky’s economy, a highlight of his reelection bid, which he won easily over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

He said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, as it proposed to do in January for newly built generators and in June for existing ones.

But those are far from the only rules the GOP wants to target.

Republican lawmakers are planning an all-out assault on Obama’s environmental agenda, including rules on mercury and other air toxics from power plants, limits on ground-level ozone that causes smog, mountaintop mining restrictions and the EPA’s attempt to redefine its jurisdiction over streams and ponds.

The Interior Department is also in the crosshairs, with rules due to come soon on hydraulic fracturing on public land and protecting streams from mining waste.

Many of the rules are part of the “war on coal” that Republicans have accused Obama of waging. They charge that Obama has tried to revive cap-and-trade rules for carbon emissions despite the 2009 failure of legislation when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

A senior GOP aide didn’t take any of Obama’s major environmental rules off the table, saying they all could get scrutiny under Republican control of the Senate, depending on how the regulations develop.

The staffer said Republicans have a series of tools available to them to fight Obama with different degrees of severity.

“It’ll be a combined effort of using the appropriations process and the legislative process and the oversight process to put pressure on the administration prior to finalization,” the aide said.

“And then, once they’re final, if they’re still onerous and job-killing and harmful to the economy, then we’ll fight them there as well.”

McConnell has endorsed appropriations riders in recent days as the best tool to stop regulations. But if legislation with those policy provisions fails to pass, it could lead to a government shutdown, violating McConnell’s stated promises to avoid shutdowns as majority leader.

Helping McConnell in his fight against the EPA will be Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who said on election night that he would become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee after having led it from 2003 to 2007.

Inhofe is an established enemy of Obama’s EPA and skeptic of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, having written a book two years ago titled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”

He has compared the EPA to Nazi Germany’s Gestapo and pushed to roll back water and air pollution rules, ozone limits and funding for contamination cleanup.

Asked about his plans for the environment panel, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said he has focused on his campaign and a defense bill in recent months.

“There is nothing yet to be released on his agenda for the EPW Committee in the new Congress,” she said.

Leading the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who wants to increase domestic energy production and exports. She also doubts humans’ responsibility for climate change.

The House has already passed a slate of bills to roll back many EPA regulations, though Senate Republicans haven’t promised to follow the lower chamber’s lead.

Business advocates are hoping for a bicameral push against the EPA in the next Congress.

“I think it’s going to be a full-on attack, especially because a lot of the rules that have either been introduced or recently promulgated are going to come with extreme costs and very minimal environmental benefits,” said Nick Loris, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

Climate change regulations are probably going to be the first priority, Loris said.

He thinks Republicans could attack the core of Obama’s greenhouse gas rules. They are likely to try to roll back the 2009 “endangerment finding,” the ruling from the EPA that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare and can be regulated.

Also at risk could be the “social cost of carbon,” a metric used in the Obama administration’s cost-benefit analysis method for cutting carbon dioxide pollution.

“It’s important for conservatives and those who are against the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases to go right to the core of this issue,” Loris said. “These are the underpinnings for a lot of what the agency is doing.”

The coal lobby is hoping that McConnell will live up to his campaign promises to defend the embattled industry.

“Tough oversight and investigation is needed to understand what’s at play in this administration and we look forward to the newly elected Senate letting a little sunshine in,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

But environmentalists don’t think Republicans will be able to muster the support necessary to block major Obama rules.

“Even though more anti-environmental candidates were elected in Congress and will be occupying the Senate, we’re confident that the president will be able to make sure his legacy is achieved and that we’ll be able to make more progress on climate change in the years ahead,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said recently at a gathering of environmental campaign finance leaders.

David Goldston, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s top lobbyist, had a similar conclusion.

“The president has made clear that he will not be cowed by an appropriations strategy, by people trying to load up spending bills with provisions that the public doesn’t support and so we would expect that to be the case again,” he said.

Elizabeth Thompson, director of Environmental Defense Fund campaign affiliate EDF Action, said Republicans misinterpreted the message from voters.

“It would be a mistake for anyone to conclude that this election signals that the public is inviting any kind of congressional rollback of America’s bedrock environmental protections,” she said.

The article and related video can be accessed here: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/e2-wire/223398-senate-gop-steeling-for-battle-against-the-epa

Radio Interview: GMO Labeling

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was recently a guest on the Linder Farm Network to provide an update regarding GMO labeling.  Mr. Ladd can be contacted at daveladd66@gmail.com for additional details.

The interview can be accessed here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vy0uv8uuiw9o9es/DAVE%20LADD%20ON%20GMO%20LABELING%20STATE%20BY%20STATE.mp3?dl=0

The Linder Farm Network: http://linderfarmnetwork.com/

INSIGHT-U.S. jockeys with China over GMO crop issues (via Reuters)

With U.S. approval for Dow AgroSciences’ package of chemicals and new genetically engineered crops now in hand, the Dow Chemical Co unit faces a major obstacle to a $1 billion market opportunity: Chinese import barriers.

The Asian nation has become a major buyer of U.S. corn and soybeans in recent years, but has also shown mounting reluctance to accept some genetically modified crops grown by U.S. farmers. China for the last year has been rejecting U.S. corn shipments containing traces of a type of GMO corn developed by Syngenta AG .

Now Dow, which, like Syngenta has yet to receive Chinese import approval for its new crops, faces the ire of the U.S. farm sector if traces of its new GMOs make their way into exports to China.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers have largely embraced the genetically modified specialty crops that can tolerate treatments of herbicide and fight off harmful pests, citing enhanced ease of production of critical food, feed and energy crops.

But while GMO crop developers and other GMO crop backers say many scientific studies show the crops are safe, and the USDA promotes the crops as a means to enhancing global food security, many other countries, and environmental and consumer groups say the crops contribute to health and environmental problems.

Chinese consumer wariness over GMO safety has mounted recently, and at the same time, Chinese regulatory approvals there have ground to a near halt. The last import approval for a GMO grain was granted in June 2013.

Reluctance by Chinese regulators to approve some types of genetically engineered U.S. grain is a significant problem for the entire U.S. agricultural sector, limiting access to a big export market. And those involved in the effort say there is no solution in sight.

Over the last year, the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Agriculture Department have joined with U.S. agribusiness companies to increase pressure on the Chinese government to ease its stance against GMO grains. But with each step forward comes at least one step back, U.S. industry players say.

The industry also is taking its message directly to Chinese consumers, backing a push to combat GMO wariness in the country.

Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the United States Trade Representative, said the GMO imports issue is a “high priority” for U.S. trade negotiators. “Trade is being blocked now. We have reached out at very high levels to China on this issue,” she said.

The industry is pushing for President Barack Obama to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jingping when they meet in Beijing on Nov. 11. And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is slated to hold talks on agricultural trade issues with China at a meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Chicago in December.

Industry officials were planning to discuss GMOs at a highly-anticipated meeting of the newly formed U.S.-China Agriculture and Food Partnership (AFP) in November. But the broad-based meeting of government and private-sector representatives from the two countries has been postponed until sometime in 2015, organizers said.

CUMBERSOME PROCESS

The Obama administration and the U.S. agribusiness industry want China to change a number of measures that they see as blocking or delaying approval of genetically modified agricultural products. One requires a product to be approved from an exporting country before Chinese regulators will begin reviewing an application.

Dow’s application has been languishing before Chinese regulators since after Canada approved Enlist crops in 2012. The company said Chinese regulators have not indicated when a decision might be granted.

While Chinese authorities used to issue regulatory decisions multiple times a year, they have indicated they now will issue decisions on applications only once a year, according to those who have been working on the issue. Beijing issued the last import approval for a GMO grain in June 2013, said Matthew O’Mara, director of international affairs at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto and Syngenta.

The U.S. also wants China to change a zero-tolerance approach for even low levels of an unapproved GMO strain in a shipment of grain from the United States.

Cargill Inc sued Syngenta last month, alleging that China’s rejections of U.S. crops contaminated with the seed-maker’s unapproved GMO corn had cost the exporter at least $90 million.

Dow, meanwhile, says it is designing a strategy to minimize disruption to export channels until China approves Enlist. The company declined to be more specific. Industry experts warn there is a high risk that more U.S. grain sales could be in jeopardy of Chinese rejection if farmers begin harvesting Enlist grains before China improves Enlist for import.

APPEAL TO PUBLIC

China already is a large producer of genetically engineered cotton, and the country imports millions of tonnes of GMO soybeans annually for pig feed. But consumer concern about the health risks of GMO crops has grown over the issue of human consumption of GMO grain.

In response, the industry has deployed CropLife International. The industry-funded group that promotes public acceptance of biotechnology has met with Chinese journalists, teachers and others seen as opinion influencers to promote biotech crops. The group, which includes Dow, Syngenta and Monsanto Co among its backers, is planning a China social media campaign next year.

“The Chinese government is under huge pressure because of the public perception on biotech crops,” said Michelle Chang, executive director of CropLife China’s biotech committee. “There is a lot of negative news on biotech.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.)

Ethanol advocate wants to keep his issue on the front burner (via St. Paul Pioneer Press)

To Randall Doyal, ethanol seems like a no-brainer: a renewable, domestically produced automotive fuel that reduces the need for imported oil; that burns clean, reducing harmful greenhouse gases and pollution; that boosts farmers and rural economies by creating jobs and raising land values.

And he’s ready to face down the detractors — those who say corn-based ethanol operates in an artificial market, with demand created by political fiat through fuel-blend mandates and engine-emission standards; that its production removes corn from the food chain, thus raising commodity prices; that at higher blends it can harm car engines.

The food-vs.-fuel debate has been going on for years, though ebbing somewhat recently with an abundant U.S. corn harvest and low prices and low inflation. Meanwhile, the development of so-called cellulosic ethanol, made from nonfood grass products, has been slow to develop.

Doyal runs Al-Corn Clean Fuel, a Claremont, Minn., farmer-owned co-op that produces 50 million gallons of ethanol a year. On Oct. 1, he became chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association, which lobbies for ethanol in Washington, D.C.

In a recent interview, Doyal described his organization and gave its side of some of the issues ethanol faces. His answers have been edited for context and clarity.

Tell us about the RFA and how you came to lead it.

“The RFA is our national ethanol organization based in Washington, D.C.

It provides us with a person who can do lobbying on Capitol Hill, and it provides a focal point for our industry to get together to learn about policy, to have some effect or influence on what happens in Washington, and to keep ourselves advised of all the issues that affect our industry.

“It’s funded by ethanol producers around the U.S., ethanol producers who are dues-paying members and have a seat on the board. After years of being on the board and doing various things for RFA, I was asked to serve on the executive committee, at one point was the treasurer; for the last couple of years was the vice chair, and was just elected chairman.”

Does the RFA concern itself with other forms of renewable energy, say wind or solar, or do you solely advocate for automotive fuel?

“Correct. It has been historically the fuels industry, the renewable fuels industry in the U.S., which is primarily ethanol.”

Do you see the industry moving away from using food stocks to produce fuel?

“We are really feed stock-neutral. The majority of the industry does utilize corn; we don’t utilize food. There’s a big difference between food and feed, and I would hope that this last year, when ethanol production has been high and corn prices have fallen, and food prices haven’t done anything but go up, would kind of put the lie to that idea that there’s a food-vs.-fuel debate that ought to be had. It’s not that ethanol production influences the cost of food at all. Oil prices have more to do with that than anything else.”

How does that work?

“Because of transportation costs, because of packaging, there’s a lot more impact from the price of oil on food prices than anything else.”

What about making ethanol from grass or other nonedible plant material? Will that ever go large-scale?

“We certainly think there’s an opportunity there. There’s a lot of work and research being done, but it’s still a very fledgling industry and has a lot of need to grow. There’s some recent opening of cellulosic plants that make this much more visible, but as an industry it’s still very small compared to the potential for production and demand.”

Do you think ethanol-blending mandates should be flexible, taking the price of corn into account, so as not to artificially raise the price in lean years?

“Within the renewable fuels standard, there is a mechanism to allow (the Environmental Protection Agency) to say there is an issue with the cost of corn, and it has more to do with availability than anything else.

“But as you can see right now, corn prices have fallen precipitously; supplies are way up. So thank goodness we’ve got an ethanol industry that’s consuming some of that corn; it’s providing some support.”

But would your industry, and your market, even exist and compete if it weren’t for the government mandates?

“Ethanol competes in the market today. We’re selling ethanol below the price of gasoline. I think it’s completely off base to think it’s not competitive because there’s a mandate. Frankly, we have a mandate in the U.S. for 90 percent gasoline, and it’s time that we change that. We’re producing a fuel that’s cheaper, that’s higher octane, that burns cleaner, that’s renewable and that could displace petroleum.”

What about the debate over whether car engines can be harmed by higher blends of ethanol in gas?

“E15 (a 15 percent blend of ethanol), according to EPA, can be run in any vehicle manufactured after the year 2001. Their concerns had to do more with emissions systems and catalytic converters, but it will operate with relatively no difference in performance, as far as the vehicle goes.

“There has been a tremendous amount of noise by folks who don’t want to lose another 5 percent of the market share and have fought very hard to prevent acceptance of anything higher than E10.”

You mean the oil companies?

“Yes. When we look around the country, there are folks who are adopting E15 or even higher blends, folks that are offering E20-30-40, but those fuels by law are only supposed to be introduced to vehicles that have flex-fuel engines in them, that are higher ethanol-compatible.

“Anyway, you see independents, those folks that are not part of any major oil company, starting to offer those. You see it around the Twin Cities, a new group that calls itself Minnoco, offering E15, and they’re growing. But there’s almost no E15 in stations that are controlled or owned by the major oil companies.”

Do you see that changing? Say, ethanol producers partnering with oil companies to jointly market a product?

“I haven’t seen much of that yet. I would certainly hold out hope for that to happen down the road, because, frankly, that’s our customer, that’s who we sell to. So we’d love to work together with them. It hasn’t been a stellar relationship so far.”

Ethanol previously has received a lot of bipartisan support in Washington. Do you see that waning at all?

“It’s hard me to say what happens in Washington, because Washington seems to be such a dysfunctional place, but in terms of bipartisan support for the ethanol industry, I continue to see that as I go through the Midwest and talk to Midwest legislators; it really is a bipartisan issue for them, they get it and they understand.”