"Green" eatery association exaggerates facts on biodiesel as it shills for the fuelmaker that founded it

By Ray Stern

The small ad by something called "AZ Green Dining" in the Cafe section of this week's New Times couldn't help but catch my eye (after a co-worker pointed it out, that is): "The New Times 4-17-08 edition printed lies about biodiesel."

I had written the article in question about alternative fuels that mentioned biodiesel. And no one had called for a correction in the weeks since it was published.

Click here to read the company's diatribe that claims to expose the "lies" in my article.

As I think you’ll agree, the AZ Green Dining write-up doesn’t really expose any lies, but it does shovel a lot of spin. In doing so, it exaggerates the benefits of biodiesel and doesn’t give the whole story about the fuel, which is usually made from soybean oil.

For instance, in the section about biodiesel pollution, AZ Green Dining quotes from a 2006 study about how burning biodiesel emits less greenhouse gas than regular diesel, but it omits a reference to a newer study that found the use of biodiesel, in the big picture, could actually increase greenhouse gas emissions severely.

Most egregiously, AZ Green Dining claims the idea that biodiesel causes maintenance problems in diesel engines is “completely false.” Truth is, it does cause maintenance problems in diesel engines. If you don’t believe the people I quoted in my April 17 article on that subject, just read this.

The main mission of AZ Green Dining apparently is convincing restaurants to donate used kitchen grease to a company called Performance Biofuels, LLC, a.k.a azbiodiesel.com. That seems like a win-win-win--for the restaurants that often pay to have the grease waste removed, for the environment and, of course, for Performance Biofuels, which turns the donations into biodiesel that it sells for profit.

Still, that doesn’t explain why AZ Green dining is so avidly one-sided on the subject of biodiesel. But a little more research did explain it.

Turns out AZ Green Dining is the brainchild of Dan Rees, president of Performance Biofuels. Casey Brooks, spokesman for AZ Green Dining, is a former sales representative for Rees. Both companies use the same phone lines, and the technical contact for AZ Green Dining’s Web domain name is an employee of Performance Biofuels.

In other words, AZ Green Dining appears to be a vehicle to enrich and promote Performance Biofuels.

When I contacted Rees to ask him about this, he blew a gasket–kind of like what happens sometimes to engines that run on biodiesel.

“Why don’t you grow up and quit writing for a rag like that, and write something that’s for real and not just outrageous articles to sell magazines,” Rees fumed before hanging up.

For the record, I’m not opposed to biodiesel in any way. In fact, I’d love to someday fill my SUV’s gas tank with fuel I made from plants, preferably those I grew in my own back yard.

As my article suggests, though, alternative fuels, like biodiesel, are wrought with problems of their own and haven’t worked out that well. Maybe they will in the future, unless hydrogen or some other new fuel ends up being a better choice.

Meantime, as was the whole point of New Times' Green Fatigue issue, there's nothing wrong with staying grounded in reality, no matter how much we all want to help the environment.

Yet it's only natural, I suppose, that only a rah-rah attitude is acceptable to folks who expect to reap a fortune selling biodiesel.

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