Officials Ignored Warnings Over Range Fuels Feasibility
Newly released documents show that government officials ignored repeated warnings from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) overseers concerning the feasibility of a south Georgia ethanol fuel plant, a debacle that eventually led to $75 million in lost taxpayer money – and not a single drop of usable ethanol produced.
The report came on Sunday when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released details contained in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, outlining specific warnings issued by Hosein Shapouri, a senior economist with the USDA in Washington. Shapouri was asked to review the project “quickly” in December 2008, presumably to have the deal sealed by the time the Bush administration left office the following month. Three weeks later, the USDA approved the Range Fuels operation with heavy funding.
With an operation that intended to produce ethanol fuel from transformed wood chips obtained from Georgia’s plentiful pine forests, Range Fuels was originally backed in 2007 by entrepreneurs such as Vinod Khosla during a time of heady optimism about the future of fuel in America. Fast-forward three years to 2011: the Range Fuels operation closed without ever successfully producing usable ethanol, leaving taxpayers out of pocket for at least $75 million despite the apparent repeated warnings that the plant was a high-risk endeavor that offered very little promise.
For its part, the USDA says that, while it is disappointed that one operation did not succeed, the public would do better to focus on its many successful endeavors that benefit the American populace. On the other side of the debate is Shapouri, the now-retired USDA official who says that the “nobody ever expected them to produce anything,” with government officials rushing to approve massive funds to a project with countless detectable faults.