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Back on September 8, Reuters published a “Special Report” claiming that “the nation’s ethanol plants produce more than double the climate-damaging pollution, per gallon of fuel production capacity, than the nation’s oil refineries, according to a Reuters analysis of federal data.”

Two weeks later on September 23, Reuters withdrew that article:

Reuters is withdrawing a Sept. 8 article that compared carbon emissions from U.S. ethanol plants and oil refineries because of its flawed interpretation of data on ethanol-plant pollution and fuel-production capacity. That led to inaccurate estimates of carbon emissions for individual ethanol plants named in the story.

An archived version of the original article is available here.

I asked my friend Doug Parker of Ecolumix to dig into the data included in the Reuters article and what he found was interesting:

“By applying the GHG reporting data for the five facilities and overlaying it with RFS’s public data related to annual capacity, we confirmed the original analysis by Reuters was accurate. It’s unclear why the story was withdrawn from a data perspective, and it raises the question as to how one can accurately assess the GHG output of these facilities if the publicly available data from both the EPA and the industry’s trade group clearly support the initial findings of Reuters. Is there additional industry data which is not disclosed which would contradict Reuters’ analysis? If so, it’s important to be transparent with that information to allow the public to get a full and accurate picture of the emissions footprint of these facilities.”

Doug’s finding got me – a “recovering non-financial auditor” – wondering what “flawed interpretation” would cause Reuters to withdraw the article. Unfortunately, this shows that even if disclosed emissions (and other ESG) data is accurate, there remains a risk that it may be misinterpreted/misreported by credible media outlets. This is a reflection of either journalistic bias or a lack of competence in understanding and applying technical data. Companies may need to diligently monitor media reports to ensure their accuracy.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile