Clearing the Air and Defending the RFS: Fighting Back Against “Swamp Watch”

As you may have seen, a show on the Fox News channel hosted by Steve Hilton aired a sensational and wildly inaccurate segment (“Swamp Watch”) on December 10 that attacked our industry with numerous false and misleading claims.


Growth Energy, our biofuels champions on the Hill, and the Fuels America coalition are working together to address this negative piece and to ensure that Fox News remains fair and balanced in its coverage by including credible sources (such as our Senate champions) on future shows covering biofuels. We are also briefing reporters on the facts and working to place op-eds in publications that reach similar audiences as those who watch this erroneous show so we can counter its misinformation.

Every bogus claim offered by Hilton has been debunked time-and-again. We hope these talking points can be useful to you:

Hilton Claim: “Government subsidies for ethanol have long been a swampy tradition in America.”
Truth: Wrong. The ethanol industry does not receive subsidies. In fact, ethanol saves taxpayers money and it saves consumers money. And unlike in the oil industry, tax incentives for corn ethanol disappeared years ago. Perhaps Mr. Hilton should examine the $4 billion dollars taxpayers pay to support oil companies each year.

Hilton Claim: “The federal government forces energy companies to produce a certain amount of ethanol fuel every year.”
Truth: Wrong again. There is no “ethanol” mandate. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that fuel producers utilize renewable energy. They have elected to meet that obligation with ethanol because it provides the low-cost, high-octane boost that consumers want. If it weren’t for market manipulation by OPEC and other fossil fuel interests, consumers wouldn’t need the RFS to protect their options at the pump.

Hilton Claim: “This big government boondoggle ends up hurting you the American consumer. Like when you fill up your car.”
Truth: Untrue. Just look at the sign in front of any station selling E15 or another higher ethanol blend. On average, E15 saves drivers five to 10 cents per gallon versus standard blends. In fact, the RFS has saved the average U.S. household about $142 in gasoline expenses, according to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Hilton Claim: “It’s when you buy your groceries too because the ethanol racket raises corn prices artificially high.”
Truth: Nope. Biofuel production has driven farmers to make more efficient use of existing cropland, supplying consumer markets with more food and energy than ever before while protecting grasslands and forests. According to Bloomberg, America recently experienced the “the longest streak of food deflation since 1960.” And while we don’t actually eat the kind of corn that is grown for ethanol, a bushel of feed corn costs less today than when the RFS was expanded in 2007.

Hilton Claim: “This so-called green regulation is actually bad for the environment.”
Truth: Not even close. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that ethanol slashes carbon emissions by 43 percent, on average, compared to petroleum-based fuel. Cellulosic ethanol can slash emissions by 100 percent or more. Sure, there are oil-sponsored reports saying otherwise, but Mr. Hilton is the only one who thinks that oil-funded science is worthy of debate.

Hilton Claim: “Big business buying off politicians to get what they want … the National Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association …”
Truth: Perhaps Mr. Hilton is confusing ethanol with Big Oil, which spent over $119 million on lobbying last year – not including massive hidden expenditures by companies like Valero, which funded a “secret campaign against U.S. biofuels,” according to Reuters. Mr. Hilton has obviously never visited with real Midwestern farmers, who adamantly support the coalition in D.C. working to protect them against the onslaught of oil industry attacks.

Hilton Claim: “Scott Pruitt caved in to the blackmail despite President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”
Truth: Talk about “fake news.” After the swamp of petroleum insiders was exposed by Growth Energy and our champions in Congress, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the very real promise that President Trump made to “protect the corn-based ethanol and biofuels that power our country.” He was explicit in that promise and won waves of support across the heartland, where biofuels support hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Hilton Claim: “Small refiners in America have to pay the large ones to produce more ethanol on their behalf.”
Truth: Mr. Hilton obviously has no idea how the RFS works. A small minority of refinery owners prefer to purchase credits – RINs – from others rather than blend biofuels into their product. But that’s only one side of the ledger. The value of RINs remains with the finished product, and it is returned to refiners once finished gasoline is sold to distributors and retailers. As the Trump administration noted in its latest rulemaking, “EPA has concluded that refiners are generally able to recover the cost of RINs in the prices they receive for their refined products, and therefore high RIN prices do not cause significant harm to refiners.” This entire argument is an announcing gimmick designed to justify more Big Oil handouts.

Hilton Claim: “How dare Senator Ernst use hard-working family farmers in Iowa to cover up her corruption … who’s the pig now?”
Truth: Mr. Hilton ought to look in the mirror to ask that question. When voters joined together to elect hard-working champions like Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, and the 36 other Senators who called on the EPA this summer to protect the growth of homegrown fuels, they were taking a stand against the swampy political tactics that Mr. Hilton has embraced. Fortunately, our champions in the Senate, along with a growing coalition of governors and other lawmakers, will not be deterred from fighting for American families who rely on homegrown fuels to protect their livelihoods, their environment, and their energy security.