Edison Chouest Offshore and Island Offshore are ordering two new OCV vessels through the company Island Ventures II LLC. One vessel will be built at Ulstein Verft, Norway, one in USA.
Ulstein Verft has been contracted to build a new offshore construction vessel of the ULSTEIN SX165 design. This will be the largest vessel built at the yard so far, as well as its largest single shipbuilding contract. The vessel is scheduled for delivery Q3 2015.
“We are very pleased to develop the next generation of offshore vessels together with Edison Chouest Offshore and Island Offshore. They are companies with solid and extensive experience. We have worked very well together on other innovative projects, and look forward to delivering a high-quality product that will serve the ship owners well for years to come,” says CEO Gunvor Ulstein, Ulstein Group.
“This is a demanding and challenging construction project, which suits us in every respect. We have a solid organisation that will carry out all the engineering work. Our group can offer world-class yard facilities and designs which attract attention from both crews and ship owners. We are ready, and looking forward to the assignment,” says Kristian Sætre, managing director, Ulstein Verft.
First ULSTEIN design in USA
Island Ventures II LLC has also ordered design and engineering packages for the construction of an ULSTEIN SX165 design vessel at Edison Chouest’s own yard in the United States. In addition, this agreement includes options. This will be the first ULSTEIN designed vessel to be constructed in the U.S.
“We look forward to adding these vessels to our fleet. The cooperation between our companies is excellent and we look forward to working with ULSTEIN on the construction of these multifunctional vessels,” says CEO Gary Chouest, Edison Chouest Offshore.
Island Offshore’s current fleet includes four vessels from ULSTEIN. In addition, a construction vessel for Island Ventures II LLC is currently under construction at Ulstein Verft for delivery in June 2014.
Facts about the vessels
The newly developed SX165 design has many qualities. The vessel is 28 metres wide and 145.7 metres long and can accommodate 200 people. She is equipped with two cranes that can lift 400 tons and 140 tons, respectively. She has a large moon pool measuring 11.2 by 12 metres plus two smaller moon pools with ROVs installed in a centrally located hangar. The vessel has a total of three separate engine rooms to provide extreme operational reliability: if a major error occurs and one of the engine rooms goes out of service, the ship will still have two-thirds of her operational capacity.
Health, safety and the environment have been fully considered in the development of this design. For example, the vessel will be delivered in accordance with the international regulation MLC2006 that sets out the comfort and safety requirements for the crew. The ship has four lifeboats, two on each side. In addition, the vessel is equipped with SCR catalyst system for NOx emission reduction.
Press Release, October 25, 2013
Lies smooth the transition to a fundamental transformation of our health-care system.November 23, 2013 4:00 AM By Andrew C. McCarthy
Fraud can be so brazen it takes people’s breath away. But for a prosecutor tasked with proving a swindle — or what federal law describes as a “scheme to defraud” — the crucial thing is not so much the fraud. It is the scheme.
To be sure, it is the fraud — the individual false statements, sneaky omissions, and deceptive practices — that grabs our attention. As I’ve recounted in this space, President Obama repeatedly and emphatically vowed, “If you like your health-insurance plan, you can keep your health-insurance plan, period.” The incontrovertible record — disclosures by the Obama administration in the Federal Register, representations by the Obama Justice Department in federal court — proves that Obama’s promises were systematically deceitful. The president’s audacity is bracing, and not just because he lies so casually while looking us in the eye. Obama also insults our intelligence. It is one thing to tuck evidence of falsehood into a few paragraphs on page 34,552 of a dusty governmental journal no one may ever look at. It is quite something else to announce it in a legal brief publicly filed in a case of intense interest to millions of Americans aggrieved by Obamacare’s religious-liberty violations. To be so bold is to say, in effect, “The public is too ignorant and disengaged to catch me, and the press is too deep in my pocket to raise alarms.”
Still, to show that politicians lie is like pointing out that it gets dark at night. The lie, the fraud, does not tell us why they lied in this instance. The fraud does not tell us what the stakes are. To know that, we must understand the scheme — the design.
The point of showing that Obama is carrying out a massive scheme to defraud — one that certainly would be prosecuted if committed in the private sector — is not to agitate for a prosecution that is never going to happen. It is to demonstrate that there is logic to the lies. There is an objective that the fraud aims to achieve. The scheme is the framework within which the myriad deceptions are peddled. Once you understand the scheme, once you can put the lies in a rational context, you understand why fraud was the president’s only option — and why “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” barely scratches the surface of Obamacare’s deceit.
In 2003, when he was an ambitious Illinois state senator from a hyper-statist district, Obama declared:
I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. . . . Everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. That’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately.
That is the Obamacare scheme.
It is a Fabian plan to move an unwilling nation, rooted in free enterprise, into Washington-controlled, fully socialized medicine. As its tentacles spread over time, the scheme (a) pushes all Americans into government markets (a metastasizing blend of Medicare, Medicaid, and “exchanges” run by state and federal agencies); (b) dictates the content of the “private” insurance product; (c) sets the price; (d) micromanages the patient access, business practices, and fees of doctors; and (e) rations medical care. Concurrently, the scheme purposely sows a financing crisis into the system, designed to explode after Leviathan has so enveloped health care, and so decimated the private medical sector, that a British- or Canadian-style “free” system — formerly unthinkable for the United States — becomes the inexorable solution.
Once you grasp that this is the scheme, the imperative to lull the public with lies makes sense. Like all swindles, Obamacare cannot work if its targeted victims figure out the endgame before it is a fait accompli.
The president is a community organizer in the Saul Alinsky tradition. He is trained to adopt the language and co-opt the sensibilities of the masses in order to become politically viable; then, once raw power is acquired, the Alinskyite uses every component of it to thwart opposition in patient but remorseless pursuit of the given “social justice” goal. Consequently, in pursuit of health-care statism, Obama moderated his rhetoric over the years, but not his ideological goals. He stressed pragmatism: a gradual campaign that kept the ultimate prize in sight. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately,” he told his hard-Left base at a 2007 SEIU health-care forum. “There’s going to be potentially some transition process. I can envision a decade out or 15 years or 20 years out.”
There’s that word: transition. It’s the route “change” takes to reach its final destination: “fundamental transformation.” If you’re paying attention, you’ll hear the word transition a lot in Obama’s health-care speeches. You’ll also find it in that Justice Department brief the administration no doubt wishes Eric Holder’s minions had edited more furtively:
The [Affordable Care Act’s] grandfathering provision’s incremental transition does not undermine the government’s interests in a significant way. Even under the grandfathering provision, it is projected that more group health plans will transition to the requirements under the regulations as time goes on. [Officials of the Department of Health and Human Services] have estimated that a majority of group health plans will have lost their grandfather status by the end of 2013 [emphasis added].
Understand what this studiously unthreatening, gradualist gobbledygook means. A “group health plan” is employer-provided insurance; the phrase thus blithely refers to the “transition” of 156 million Americans who get health insurance for themselves and their families through work. It does not mention the so-called individual market, consumers who buy health insurance on their own. That’s because the administration assumes the “transition” of those 25 million Americans from their preferred plans to Obamacare will already have progressed well toward completion. And indeed it has, as we have seen in the millions of cancellation notices reported in the last six weeks.
The Justice Department’s assertion, based on the administration’s internal analyses, conveys that by the third year of Obamacare’s implementation — “the end of 2013,” which has since been extended by a year due to Obama’s “waiver” of the employer mandate — more than half of those 156 million group policies will have lost their “grandfather status.” “Grandfathering” is the mirage Obama projected for his illusory “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” guarantee.
You couldn’t keep your plan because Obamacare mandates made it impossible for private insurers to offer it. The mandates essentially require that everything and everyone be covered — even though you do not need coverage for everything (e.g., 23-year-old men do not need birth-control pills, neo-natal care, and periodic colonoscopies), and even though mandatory coverage for preexisting conditions is not insurance but welfare. The mandates are simply cost-shifting from the young and healthy to the older and sicklier — just as you would find in any universal, single-payer system. But Obamacare is camouflaged to make it look like the insurers are deciding not to offer your plan anymore, rather than that the government is forcing their hand.
Of course, that’s not the half of the deceit — not in a program the president publicly insisted was not a tax even as his Justice Department insisted to the Supreme Court that it was one. Obama also said, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.” As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey noted this week, that promise too is fraudulent. If your doctor is not part of the network offered on the plans in your exchange, you will lose your doctor. To keep costs down, exchanges will limit their provider networks. Top doctors and hospitals are already being cut out. Moreover, the onerous regulations, reporting requirements, and constant threat of fee-slashing are beginning to drive doctors out of the profession.
Then there is the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Stanley Kurtz described the IPAB in all its frightening detail in a 2011 National Review cover story: “An unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic entity with nearly limitless power over federal Medicare spending, [it] will have the power to effectively ration health care through price controls.”
Put aside that the IPAB, which Obamacare insulates from judicial review, is an unconstitutional delegation of Congress’s legislative power — a model that, if adopted in spheres of activity beyond health care, would effectively end popular self-governance. As the rising costs driven by our health-care system’s suffocating regulations compound our astronomical debt, pressure is mounting for the IPAB to oversee cost-cutting — i.e., rationing — not only in Medicare but across the whole Obamacare framework. In fact, as Stanley recounts, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission appointed by Obama made just such a recommendation — giving the president political cover to push hard for IPAB expansion. “Once IPAB’s rules govern America’s health-care system as a whole,” Stanley concludes, “we will be most of the way down the road to a British-style single-payer system.”
So how does Obama get all the way down that road? That is where the scheme’s manufactured crisis comes in. Obamacare commands that all Americans purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not. This is essential: If young healthy people refused to buy overpriced, largely superfluous coverage to underwrite the cost of insuring older and sick people, premiums would further skyrocket. As Powerline’s John Hinderaker explains, insurance companies would either have to fold or shift the costs to whatever employer plans still remained. This, in turn, would spur employers to cancel plans, dumping ever more people into the government exchanges.
The individual mandate is what is supposed to prevent that death spiral. There’s just one thing: The individual mandate is legally unenforceable.
Yes, there is a penalty for failing to purchase insurance — starting at $95 or 1 percent of income the first year and rising sharply thereafter. But the designers of Obamacare went out of their way to prohibit the IRS from using its usual array of civil and criminal processes (fines, liens, etc.) to confiscate it. The government may only collect the penalty by deducting it from tax refunds — meaning people who prudently structure their tax withholding so that no refund accumulates can avoid paying with impunity.
Obviously, it would be far less expensive for young people — who are already disproportionately strained by Obama’s no-growth, high-unemployment economy — to opt for a penalty they are not actually required to pay than to purchase prohibitively costly coverage. After all, under Obamacare, they can wait until they are sick to buy “insurance.” That is, Obamacare’s architects consciously created the incentive to destroy the program’s own insurance exchanges.
By the time that problem erupts, private insurance will already be gutted. Coverage requirements will already be dictated by government, as will pricing, with a subsidy structure that builds in progressive wealth redistribution. And doctors will already be beholden to government for patient access, treatment options, record-keeping requirements, and payment. That is, much of the single-payer infrastructure will be in place.
The manufactured financial crisis will be portrayed as a demonstration that exchanges based on the assumption that individuals will take responsibility for their own “private” insurance arrangements do not work. It will be time to solve the crisis by a seamless transition — there’s that word again — to a fully socialized health-care system, now overtly controlled by the government. “Free” health care for everyone — with all the substandard treatment, absurd wait times, and rationing that entails — will be supported by a few “tweaks” to our progressive tax system . . . no more unwieldy, unpredictable premium payments.
That’s the scheme. Or maybe you still believe that if you like your private medical system, you can keep your private medical system, period.
- Calls Begin For Obama’s Impeachment & Removal Over Serial Fraud & Corruption (thegatewaypundit.com)
- If Obama Were a CEO in the Private Sector, He’d be Prosecuted for Fraud (joemiller.us)
- ‘Criminal investigation’ of Obamacare sought (wnd.com)
- Ex-marxist Warns of Obamacare Leading to “Communism” (endtimeheadlines.wordpress.com)
November 17, 2013
It’s a fairly pleasant Sunday morning here in Ft. Worth. It rained a little last night and it’s about 60 degrees outside … pretty darn nice.
I read a piece this morning GOP: Obama lied about health insurance law and I can’t say I’m “stunned” at the content but the piece clearly demonstrates how willing people are to be deceived. It’s like being “blinded by the light”, despite the fact that Barack Obama’s “light” is brilliant only to himself. He is like unto a once great chandelier with a thousand, one hundred watt bulbs brightly lighting up the dance floor … now reduced to a single, seven watt night-light leaving people stumbling around, looking foolish still trying to dance to a worn out tune.
The writer of the article definitely is one of the folks stumbling around the dance floor. He points out in the article that Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin, whom the author referred to as the “designated attacker” for the GOP, as much as said Obama lied when he repeatedly assured the public, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”
“As much as said” …
Here is what the good Senator said: Here
Friday, November 15, 2013
by Mike Adams
(NaturalNews) In a desperate bid to save the rapidly collapsing Obamacare socialized medicine program, President Obama announced a “fix” yesterday that would “allow” health insurance companies to avoid cancelling whatever plans haven’t already been cancelled due to Obamacare itself.
In doing so, Obama effectively declares himself absolute dictator over all laws across the country, assuming the power to enforce, ignore or alter laws at he pleases.
The problem with this is that such powers do not exist in the Office of the President. Like everything else surrounding Obamacare, Obama himself is simply inventing new powers as he goes along and hoping no one will question his assumed (illegal) authority.
“The unexpected compromise was announced amid growing revolt within Mr. Obama’s own party over his broken promise that Americans who liked their insurance could keep it. But it sparked another backlash as some legal scholars questioned whether the president had the authority to create the loophole,” reports the Washington Times.
It also, by the way, thrust the insurance industry into a state of chaos where insurance companies now have no idea what’s going to be “law” tomorrow, next month or next year. Apparently Obama can simply change his mind at any time and decide that insurance companies are suddenly engaged in mass criminal activities which can then be prosecuted under the law as it is written.
Beware of presidents who claim absolute power over Congress
This is how Hitler rose to power, of course. It’s how every tyrant throughout history got his start. It’s also precisely what the United States Constitution prohibits in Article II, Section 3, where the language demands that the President “take care that laws be faithfully executed.”
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say any President can simply choose to selectively ignore laws passed by Congress. Thus, Obama’s new “fix” is blatantly illegal from the start.
Even if it were legal under the U.S. Constitution, it is clearly discriminatory, allowing the White House to essentially decide which insurance companies “get” to be ignored by the law and which companies will be prosecuted for “illegally” keeping policies in place that violate the Affordable Care Act as written. This only creates yet more centralization of power in the White House, giving them the tools to silence dissent among insurance companies by wielding prosecutorial discretion as a political weapon.
Obama unleashes economic despair and market chaos on America
The health insurance industry is now suffering from a case of regulatory whiplash. Obama’s enforcement of federal law seems to change with the direction of the wind, and his highly irresponsible, immature actions are causing extreme market destabilization.
At this point, insurance companies have no idea what to believe. Nor do consumers who are shopping for plans. Healthcare.gov remains in a disastrous state and even though Obama has now announced his unconstitutional “fix” for people to keep their health care plans, there exists no government-legalized mechanism for insurance companies to reinstate policies already cancelled!
Thus, all the policies already cancelled are dead and gone forever. So it’s not even clear how Obama’s so-called “fix” helps anyone at all.
Like everything else in the Obama administration, this “fix” is nothing more than deceptive smooth talking to gloss over a problem and promote the delusion that everything is working just fine.
Obama’s campaign promise of “hope and change” has become a joke. Sometimes hope is little more than false hope pretending to be real. And sometimes, the most charming, slick talking salesman is actually a con artist. Kevin Trudeau is in prison right now for lying about a weight loss book. Obama lied to the whole country about a far more serious issue, and he gets rewarded with even more power in his unconstitutional effort to “fix” the very problem he caused in the first place.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Monday – 11/4/2013
CORYDON, Iowa (AP) — The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.
Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. And when President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”
But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.
The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.
“They’re raping the land,” said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County, which now bears little resemblance to the rolling cow pastures shown in postcards sold at a Corydon pharmacy.
All energy comes at a cost. The environmental consequences of drilling for oil and natural gas are well documented and severe. But in the president’s push to reduce greenhouse gases and curtail global warming, his administration has allowed so-called green energy to do not-so-green things.
In some cases, such as its decision to allow wind farms to kill eagles, the administration accepts environmental costs because they pale in comparison to the havoc it believes global warming could ultimately cause.
Ethanol is different.
The government’s predictions of the benefits have proven so inaccurate that independent scientists question whether it will ever achieve its central environmental goal: reducing greenhouse gases. That makes the hidden costs even more significant.
“This is an ecological disaster,” said Craig Cox with the Environmental Working Group, a natural ally of the president that, like others, now finds itself at odds with the White House.
But it’s a cost the administration is willing to accept. It believes supporting corn ethanol is the best way to encourage the development of biofuels that will someday be cleaner and greener than today’s. Pulling the plug on corn ethanol, officials fear, might mean killing any hope of these next-generation fuels.
“That is what you give up if you don’t recognize that renewable fuels have some place here,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a recent interview with AP. “All renewable fuels are not corn ethanol.”
Still, corn supplies the overwhelming majority of ethanol in the United States, and the administration is loath to discuss the environmental consequences.
“It just caught us completely off guard,” said Doug Davenport, a Department of Agriculture official who encourages southern Iowa farmers to use conservation practices on their land. Despite those efforts, Davenport said he was surprised at how much fragile, erodible land was turned into corn fields.
Shortly after Davenport spoke to The Associated Press, he got an email ordering him to stop talking.
“We just want to have a consistent message on the topic,” an Agriculture Department spokesman in Iowa said.
That consistent message was laid out by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke to ethanol lobbyists on Capitol Hill recently and said ethanol was good for business.
“We are committed to this industry because we understand its benefits,” he said. “We understand it’s about farm income. It’s about stabilizing and maintaining farm income which is at record levels.”
The numbers behind the ethanol mandate have become so unworkable that, for the first time, the EPA is soon expected to reduce the amount of ethanol required to be added to the gasoline supply. An unusual coalition of big oil companies, environmental groups and food companies is pushing the government to go even further and reconsider the entire ethanol program.
To understand how America got to an environmental policy with such harmful environmental consequences, it’s helpful to start in a field in Iowa.
Leroy Perkins, a white-haired, 66-year-old farmer in denim overalls, stands surrounded by waist-high grass and clover. He owns 91 acres like this, all hilly and erodible, that he set aside for conservation years ago.
Soon, he will have a decision to make: keep the land as it is or, like many of his neighbors, plow it down and plant corn or soybeans, the major sources of biofuel in the United States.
“I’d like to keep it in,” he said. “This is what southern Iowa’s for: raising grass.”
For decades, the government’s Conservation Reserve Program has paid farmers to stop farming environmentally sensitive land. Grassy fields naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which helps combat global warming. Plus, their deep root systems prevent topsoil from washing away.
For Perkins and his farmer neighbors in Wayne County, keeping farmland in conservation wasn’t just good stewardship. It made financial sense.
A decade ago, Washington paid them about $70 an acre each year to leave their farmland idle. With corn selling for about $2 per bushel (56 pounds) back then, farming the hilly, inferior soil was bad business.
Many opted into the conservation program. Others kept their grasslands for cow pastures.
Lately, though, the math has changed.
“I’m coming to the point where financially, it’s not feasible,” Perkins said.
The change began in 2007, when Congress passed a law requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of ethanol into gasoline.
Oil prices were high. Oil imports were rising quickly. The legislation had the strong backing of the presidential candidate who was the junior senator from neighboring Illinois, the nation’s second-largest corn producer.
“If we’re going to get serious about investing in our energy future, we must give our family farmers and local ethanol producers a fair shot at success,” Obama said then.
The Democratic primary field was crowded, and if he didn’t win the Iowa caucuses the road to the nomination would be difficult. His strong support for ethanol set him apart.
“Any time we could talk about support for ethanol, we did,” said Mitch Stewart, the battleground states director for Obama’s 2008 campaign. “It’s how we would lead a lot of discussions.”
President Bush signed the bill that December.
It would fall on the next president to figure out how to make it work.
President Obama’s team at the EPA was sour on the ethanol mandate from the start.
As a way to reduce global warming, they knew corn ethanol was a dubious proposition. Corn demands fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. What’s worse, ethanol factories typically burn coal or gas, both of which release carbon dioxide.
Then there was the land conversion, the most controversial and difficult-to-predict outcome.
Digging up grassland releases greenhouse gases, so environmentalists are skeptical of any program that encourages planting more corn.
“I don’t remember anybody having great passion for this,” said Bob Sussman, who served on Obama’s transition team and recently retired as EPA’s senior policy counsel. “I don’t have a lot of personal enthusiasm for the program.”
At the White House and the Department of Agriculture, though, there was plenty of enthusiasm.
One of Obama’s senior advisers, Pete Rouse, had worked on ethanol issues as chief of staff to Sen. Tom Daschle of Iowa, a major ethanol booster who now sits on the board of Growth Energy, the ethanol trade group.
Another adviser at the time, Heather Zichal, grew up in northeast Iowa — as a child, she was crowned “sweet corn princess” — and was one of the Obama campaign’s leading voices on ethanol in her home state.
The administration had no greater corn ethanol advocate than Vilsack, the former Iowa governor.
“Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home,” Obama said in 2008. “That is the kind of leader I want in my Cabinet.”
Writing the regulations to implement the ethanol mandate was among the administration’s first major environmental undertakings. Industry and environmental groups watched closely.
The EPA’s experts determined that the mandate would increase demand for corn and encourage farmers to plow more land. Considering those factors, they said, corn ethanol was only slightly better than gasoline when it came to carbon dioxide emissions.
Sixteen percent better, to be exact. And not in the short term. Only by 2022.
By law, though, biofuels were supposed to be at least 20 percent greener than gasoline.
From a legal standpoint, the results didn’t matter. Congress exempted existing coal- and gas-burning ethanol plants from meeting this standard.
But as a policy and public relations issue, it was a real problem. The biofuel-friendly Obama administration was undermining the industry’s major selling point: that it was much greener than gasoline.
So the ethanol industry was livid. Lobbyists flooded the EPA with criticism, challenging the government’s methods and conclusions.
The EPA’s conclusion was based on a model. Plug in some assumed figures — the price of corn, the number of acres planted, how much corn would grow per acre — and the model would spit out a number.
To get past 20 percent, the EPA needed to change its assumptions.
The most important of those assumptions was called the yield, a measure of how much corn could be produced on an acre of land. The higher the yield, the easier it would be for farmers to meet the growing demand without plowing new farmland, which counted against ethanol in the greenhouse gas equation.
Corn yields have inched steadily upward over the years as farms have become more efficient. The government’s first ethanol model assumed that trend would continue, rising from 150 bushels per acre to about 180 by the year 2022.
Agriculture companies like Monsanto Co. and DuPont Pioneer, which stood to make millions off an ethanol boom, told the government those numbers were too low.
They predicted that genetically modified seeds — which they produce — would send yields skyrocketing. With higher yields, farmers could produce more corn on less land, reducing the environmental effects.
Documents show the White House budget office also suggested the EPA raise its yield assumptions.
When the final rule came out, the EPA and Agriculture officials added a new “high yield case scenario” that assumed 230 bushels per acre.
The flaw in those assumptions, independent scientists knew, was that a big increase in corn prices would encourage people to farm in less hospitable areas like Wayne County, which could never produce such large yields.
But the EPA’s model assumed only a tiny increase in corn prices.
“You adjust a few numbers to get it where you want it, and then you call it good,” said Adam Liska, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska. He supports ethanol, even with its environmental trade-offs.
When the Obama administration finalized its first major green-energy policy, corn ethanol barely crossed the key threshold. The final score: 21 percent.
“If you corrected any of a number of things, it would be on the other side of 20 percent,” said Richard Plevin of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Is it a coincidence this is what happened? It certainly makes me wonder.”
It didn’t take long for reality to prove the Obama administration’s predictions wrong.
The regulations took effect in July 2010. The following month, corn prices already had surpassed the EPA’s long-term estimate of $3.22 a bushel. That September, corn passed $4, on its way to about $7, where it has been most of this year.
Yields, meanwhile, have held fairly steady.
But the ethanol boom was underway.
It’s impossible to precisely calculate how much ethanol is responsible for the spike in corn prices and how much those prices led to the land changes in the Midwest.
Supporters of corn ethanol say extreme weather — dry one year, very wet the next — hurt farmers and raised prices.
But diminishing supply wasn’t the only factor. More corn than ever was being distilled into ethanol.
Historically, the overwhelmingly majority of corn in the United States has been turned into livestock feed. But in 2010, for the first time, fuel was the No. 1 use for corn in America. That’s been true every year since.
Forty-four percent last year’s corn crop was used for fuel, about twice the rate in 2006, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The more corn that goes to ethanol, the more that needs to be planted to meet other demands.
Scientists predicted that a major ethanol push would raise prices and, in turn, encourage farmers like Leroy Perkins to plow into conservation land. But the government insisted otherwise.
In 2008, the journal Science published a study with a dire conclusion: Plowing over conservation land releases so much greenhouse gas that it takes 48 years before new plants can break even and start reducing carbon dioxide.
For an ethanol policy to work, the study said, farmers could not plow into conservation land.
The EPA, in a report to Congress on the environmental effects of ethanol, said it was “uncertain” whether farmers would plant on farmland that had been set aside for conservation.
The Department of Energy was more certain. Most conservation land, the government said in its response to the study, “is unsuitable for use for annual row crop production.”
America could meet its ethanol demand without losing a single acre of conservation land, Energy officials said.
They would soon be proven wrong.
Before the government ethanol mandate, the Conservation Reserve Program grew every year for nearly a decade. Almost overnight, farmers began leaving the program, which simultaneously fell victim to budget cuts that reduced the amount of farmland that could be set aside for conservation.
In the first year after the ethanol mandate, more than 2 million acres disappeared.
Since Obama took office, 5 million more acres have vanished.
Agriculture officials acknowledge that conservation land has been lost, but they say the trend is reversing. When the 2013 data comes out, they say it will show that as corn prices stabilized, farmers once again began setting aside land for conservation.
Losing conservation land was bad. But something even worse was happening.
Farmers broke ground on virgin land, the untouched terrain that represents, from an environmental standpoint, the country’s most important asset.
The farm industry assured the government that wouldn’t happen. And it would have been an easy thing for Washington to check.
But rather than insisting that farmers report whenever they plow into virgin land, the government decided on a much murkier oversight method: Washington instead monitors the total number of acres of cropland nationwide. Local trends wash away when viewed at such a distance.
“They could not have designed a better approach to not detect land conversion,” said Ben Larson, an agricultural expert for the National Wildlife Federation.
Look closely at the corn boom in the northern Great Plains, however, and it’s clear. Farmers are converting untouched prairie into farmland.
The Department of Agriculture began keeping figures on virgin land only in 2012 and determined that about 38,000 acres vanished that year.
But using government satellite data — the best tool available — the AP identified a conservative estimate of 1.2 million acres of virgin land in Nebraska and the Dakotas alone that have been converted to fields of corn and soybeans since 2006, the last year before the ethanol mandate was passed.
“The last five years, we’ve become financially solvent,” said Robert Malsam, a farmer in Edmunds County, S.D., who like others in the central and eastern Dakotas has plowed into wild grassland to expand his corn crop.
The price of corn is reshaping the land across the Midwest. In Wayne County, Iowa, for example, only the dead can stop the corn.
A gravel road once cut through a grassy field leading to a hilltop cemetery. But about two years ago, the landowners plowed over the road. Now, visiting gravesites means walking a narrow path through the corn.
People have complained. It’s too narrow for a hearse, too rutted for a wheelchair, too steep for the elderly. But it’s legal, said Bill Alley from the board of supervisors.
“This is what the price of corn does,” he said. “This is what happens, right here.”
When Congress passed the ethanol mandate, it required the EPA to thoroughly study the effects on water and air pollution. In his recent speech to ethanol lobbyists, Vilsack was unequivocal about those effects:
“There is no question air quality, water quality is benefiting from this industry,” he said.
But the administration never actually conducted the required air and water studies to determine whether that’s true.
In an interview with the AP after his speech, Vilsack said he didn’t mean that ethanol production was good for the air and water. He simply meant that gasoline mixed with ethanol is cleaner than gasoline alone.
In the Midwest, meanwhile, scientists and conservationists are sounding alarms.
Nitrogen fertilizer, when it seeps into the water, is toxic. Children are especially susceptible to nitrate poisoning, which causes “blue baby” syndrome and can be deadly.
Between 2005 and 2010, corn farmers increased their use of nitrogen fertilizer by more than one billion pounds. More recent data isn’t available from the Agriculture Department, but because of the huge increase in corn planting, even conservative projections by the AP suggest another billion-pound fertilizer increase on corn farms since then.
Department of Agriculture officials note that the amount of fertilizer used for all crops has remained steady for a decade, suggesting the ethanol mandate hasn’t caused a fertilizer boom across the board.
But in the Midwest, corn is the dominant crop, and officials say the increase in fertilizer use — driven by the increase in corn planting — is having an effect.
The Des Moines Water Works, for instance, has faced high nitrate levels for many years in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, which supply drinking water to 500,000 people. Typically, when pollution is too high in one river, workers draw from the other.
“This year, unfortunately the nitrate levels in both rivers were so high that it created an impossibility for us,” said Bill Stowe, the water service’s general manager.
For three months this summer, workers kept huge machines running around the clock to clean the water. Officials asked customers to use less water so the utility had a chance to keep up.
Part of the problem was that last year’s dry weather meant fertilizer sat atop the soil. This spring’s rains flushed that nitrogen into the water along with the remnants of the fertilizer from the most recent crop.
At the same time the ethanol mandate has encouraged farmers to plant more corn, Stowe said, the government hasn’t done enough to limit fertilizer use or regulate the industrial drainage systems that flush nitrates and water into rivers and streams.
With the Water Works on the brink of capacity, Stowe said he’s considering suing the government to demand a solution.
In neighboring Minnesota, a government report this year found that significantly reducing the high levels of nitrates from the state’s water would require huge changes in farming practices at a cost of roughly $1 billion a year.
“We’re doing more to address water quality, but we are being overwhelmed by the increase in production pressure to plant more crops,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
The nitrates travel down rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico, where they boost the growth of enormous algae fields. When the algae die, the decomposition consumes oxygen, leaving behind a zone where aquatic life cannot survive.
This year, the dead zone covered 5,800 square miles of sea floor, about the size of Connecticut.
Larry McKinney, the executive director of the Harte Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, says the ethanol mandate worsened the dead zone.
“On the one hand, the government is mandating ethanol use,” he said, “and it is unfortunately coming at the expense of the Gulf of Mexico.”
The dead zone is one example among many of a peculiar ethanol side effect: As one government program encourages farmers to plant more corn, other programs pay millions to clean up the mess.
Obama administration officials know the ethanol mandate hasn’t lived up to its billing.
The next-generation biofuels that were supposed to wean the country off corn haven’t yet materialized. Every year, the EPA predicts millions of gallons of clean fuel will be made from agricultural waste. Every year, the government is wrong.
Every day without those cleaner-burning fuels, the ethanol industry stays reliant on corn and the environmental effects mount.
The EPA could revisit its model and see whether ethanol is actually as good for the environment as officials predicted. But the agency says it doesn’t have the money or the manpower.
Even under the government’s optimistic projections, the ethanol mandate wasn’t going to reduce greenhouse gas right away. And with the model so far off from reality, independent scientists say it’s hard to make an argument for ethanol as a global warming policy.
“I’d have to think really hard to come up with a scenario where it’s a net positive,” said Silvia Secchi, a Southern Illinois University agriculture economist.
She paused a few moments, then added, “I’m stumped.”
In June, when Obama gave a major policy speech on reducing greenhouse gas, he didn’t mention ethanol. Biofuels in general received a brief, passing reference.
What was once billed as an environmental boon has morphed into a government program to help rural America survive.
“I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument,” Vilsack said in an interview with the AP. “To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”
Congress and the administration could change the ethanol mandate, tweak its goals or demand more safeguards. Going to Congress and rewriting the law would mean picking a fight with agricultural lobbyists, a fight that would put the administration on the side of big oil companies, which despise the ethanol requirement.
So the ethanol policy cruises on autopilot.
Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol lobbying group, said there’s no reason to change the standards. Ethanol still looks good compared to the oil industry, which increasingly relies on environmentally risky tactics like hydraulic fracturing or pulls from carbon-heavy tar sands.
Leroy Perkins, the farmer agonizing about what to do with his 91 acres, says he likes ethanol as a product and an industry. But he knows it fuels the corn prices that are transforming his county.
“If they do change the fuel standard, you’ll see the price of corn come down overnight,” he said. “I like to see a good price for corn. But when it’s too high, it hurts everybody.”
Investors from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania have bought thousands of acres in Wayne County, sending prices skyrocketing from $350 per acre a decade ago to $5,000 today.
One in every four acres of in the county is now owned by an out-of-towner.
Those who still own land often rent it to farming companies offering $300 or more per acre. Perkins could make perhaps $27,000 a year if he let somebody plant corn on his land. That’s nothing to dismiss in a county where typical household income is $36,000.
But he knows what that means. He sees the black streaks in his neighbor’s cornfields, knowing the topsoil washes away with every rain. He doesn’t want that for his family’s land.
“You have to decide, do you want to be the one to. .”
He doesn’t finish his sentence.
“We all have to look at our pocketbooks.”
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum in Washington and Chet Brokaw in Roscoe, S.D., contributed to this report.