Energy

Rhode Island Praised This Company After It Spilled 4,700 Gallons of Ethanol

(REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

Rhode Island environmental regulators recently praised an energy technology company for its environmental stewardship, but ignored the company’s past ethanol spills and fines for violating major environmental laws.

The company, called Aspen Aerogels, first spilled 4,500 last year, and then spilled 200 more gallons of ethanol in April 2015. Rhode Island regulators have fined Aspen Aerogels twice in the past year for violating the Clean Air Act and other emissions laws.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), however, praised the company in a recent Tweet, saying, “TY @AspenAerogels for helping to protect our environment & feed our innovation economy!”

Rhode Island DEM’s defense of the company infuriated local environmentalists.

“The recent tweet was and is poppycock,” Frank Carini, the editor and co-founder of eco-Rhode Island, wrote in a recent opinion piece.

“A quick look at the DEM Twitter feed reads more like that of a chamber of commerce than an environmental management agency,” Carini wrote. “Capitalism doesn’t protect natural resources; it’s built to do just the opposite.”

According to the company’s website, “Aspen Aerogels is a leading energy technology company providing innovative thermal management solutions to the $2.8 billion energy insulation market.” The website also states that Aspen Aerogels’ products are used by “19 of the world’s top 20 petrochemical companies.”

“Government agencies were created to protect, monitor and manage those resources,” Carini wrote. “In Rhode Island, the agency created to do just that also is responsible for pumping up the state’s business climate.”

Environmental groups have largely turned against ethanol. A report published by the Sierra Club in 2015 states that the organization “opposes further deployment of corn-based ethanol based on its extremely dubious net carbon benefits and its unresolved direct and indirect environmental impacts.” Greenpeace USA said in 2012 that ethanol contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Federal law requires American refiners to mix increasing amounts of corn-based ethanol into gasoline through a program called the Renewable Fuel Standard. President Barack Obama’s administration has claimed that ethanol is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management declined the opportunity to comment.

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