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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Confronted at Press Conference by ‘Billionaires’

Activists stage demonstration criticizing USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s plan to increase production of dirty ethanol and build its infrastructure with taxpayer dollars

WASHINGTON - Friends of the Earth showed up at a press conference held by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this morning to protest his newly announced support for extending federal subsidies to ethanol. Several activists, dressed as “Billionaires for Biofuels,” mocked the corporate corn ethanol industry groups responsible for duping the Obama administration into falsely believing ethanol to be a form of clean energy worthy of billions of dollars in government handouts.

“We’ve already paid billions of dollars to develop this unsustainable fuel,” said Kate McMahon, biofuels campaign coordinator with Friends of the Earth. “Now, the corporate interests behind ethanol want us, the American taxpayers, to pay them billions more to continue polluting our planet.”

The “Billionaires for Biofuels” included satirical representatives of ethanol lobby groups Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, and the National Corn Growers Association, and publicly thanked the Obama administration and passersby for American tax dollars that support the ethanol industry. The “billionaires” were joined by other activists holding a banner reading, “Save Tax Dollars—And The Planet: Stop Federal Support of Ethanol.”

Secretary Vilsack’s press event came after the ethanol lobbyist groups met behind closed doors with President Obama’s new Chief of Staff, Pete Rouse, earlier this month to push ethanol as a fuel the White House could endorse as clean. The plan the corporate ethanol interests are pressing for includes federal loan guarantees for ethanol pipelines, the false labeling of corn-starch ethanol as an “advanced” biofuel under the existing federal ethanol production mandate, and the suspension of requirements that all pollution from corn ethanol production, including that caused by indirect land use change, be counted.


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According to the EPA, corn ethanol creates more greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline, and also contaminates the Gulf of Mexico with nitrogen fertilizer runoff that travels down the Mississippi River – creating “dead zones” long before the BP oil spill.

“Our objective with today’s street theater demonstration is to show the absurdity of the Obama administration’s continued support for ethanol, and how it comes at the expense of taxpayers and the environment,” McMahon said. “The EPA’s recent decision to allow increased amounts of ethanol to be put into in gasoline is an example of this.”

Friends of the Earth and its allies have been campaigning to end the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which provides billions of dollars in subsidies to the corn ethanol industry by way of the oil industry each year, even though the oil industry is already required by law to blend ethanol into gasoline.


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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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