I'm one of those people that occasionally clicks on a banner ad and visit a site's sponsor. Well, someone has to do it, right? And because so much advertising is targeted or niche specific, I often see ads displayed that appeal to my interests in energy and the environment. And sometimes there's even a story waiting for me after the click.
Like when I recently clicked on an ad with a map of the 50 U.S. states inviting me to see editorials written by local newspapers in support of letting the ethanol tax credit expire at the end of 2010. I clicked on a handful of the states and read a few editorials. And while I thought this seemed to be a good strategy for any broad public policy campaign, I was most struck that the website where this handy little tool for learning about opposition to the federal ethanol subsidy resided was unabashedly owned and operated by the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.
The Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry has been interested in the U.S. transportation fuel market for some time. But a combination of tariffs, subsidies and regulations have effectively blocked Brazil from participating in the ethanol market. But that may be about to change, as a series of events unfolding in 2010 has opened the door to the possibility that the U.S. may be loosening restrictions on foreign biofuels.
In February, when the EPA designated sugarcane-based ethanol an Advanced Renewable Fuel compliant with the updated Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2), the Brazilian sugarcane industry saw a crack in the armor. Throughout the summer the campaign to dump the tariff picked up some steam, buoyed by a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) suggesting we let the supports expire and determining the corn ethanol industry can stand on its own.
And just two weeks ago, the EPA approved five Brazilian ethanol mills for production of biofuels to be used in the U.S.
To bring attention to all these developments, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association launched a slick PR campaign with a shiny new website, sweeteralternative.org, that uses tools from both old and new media “so that Americans can make informed choices about their renewable energy options.”
The Brazilians argue that sugarcane can be a key part of America’s energy future because of its “proven environmental benefits and potential savings at the pump.” But their strategy is not only to tell you why they think (Brazilian) sugarcane ethanol is better than corn ethanol, but also to remind you of all the editorial support from all over the United States for ending corn ethanol subsidies.
The website message reads:
“From inside-the-beltway to Wall Street to the heart of the farm belt, the plummet in support for ethanol subsidies and trade protection is on full display in some of the nation’s top newspapers. Editorials in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and many other papers — each calling for significant reform of U.S. ethanol policy — are another milestone in the groundswell of support for opening America’s renewable fuels market to real competition that will benefit consumers.”
Considering sugarcane is five to seven times more efficient per hectare at producing ethanol than corn, and that U.S. taxpayers pay $6 billion annually for the federal ethanol subsidy, Brazilians may have a pretty good argument for letting the support expire -- at least from an economic standpoint.
In addition to being more efficient per unit of arable land, by most accounts, sugarcane-derived ethanol is more sustainable than corn-based ethanol because sugarcane is a semi-perennial crop, requiring replanting every six years, as opposed to corn's one. And in terms of carbon emissions, as compared to gasoline, sugarcane ethanol cuts greenhouse gases by more than 60 percent, better than any other liquid biofuel.
A final environmental issue that has merited attention in the past is whether Brazilian sugarcane production is driving deforestation. But a recent study shows the impact is only indirect as it is more common for land previously used for cattle grazing to be converted to sugarcane cultivation, which, in turn, drives more forest to be cleared for grazing. While sugarcane ethanol is no panacea, as long as the U.S. has a renewable fuels requirement, fulfilling the requirement with biofuels other than the inefficient corn-based ethanol will likely be cheaper and less environmentally taxing.
Watch the recently-launched animated short from the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association: