November 15, 2013

The High Cost of Ethanol

The Associated Press issued a damning report on the negative effects of ethanol. Green lobby hardest hit.

One advantage for Iowa in being first on the presidential calendar is that candidates get an earful of talk on rural and agricultural issues. This, among other reasons, is why we have ethanol mandates.

Unfortunately, the “clean, green” energy that promised to eventually wean us off our dependence on foreign oil has turned out to be neither clean nor green. According to a lengthy Associated Press report on the subject, for example, over 1.2 million acres of formerly pristine prairie in Nebraska and the Dakotas have been plowed under for cornfields. Farmers are now eschewing modest conservation payments in favor of chasing a corn market where prices top $7 a bushel, leaving observers to bemoan the “raping [of] the land” and the “ecological disaster” ethanol has created.

With all that new acreage in mainly marginal land being used for crops, additional supplies of nitrogen-rich fertilizer are required. While it helps boost corn yields to some extent, the fertilizer that leaches away from the fields makes its way to local streams that eventually wind their way to the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to an expanding “dead zone” in that body of water. It’s also affected water supplies downstream, with the city of Des Moines, Iowa, asking consumers to curtail their water usage this past summer because of excess nitrogen in two local rivers that supply the city.

Yet the EPA, which first mandated the usage of ethanol as a fuel in 2007, is reluctant to curtail its mandated use as a blend for gasoline despite the economic and environmental effects their flawed assumptions have led to. Notably, the Obama administration refuses to give the oil industry a victory. One big change since the ethanol law was passed six years ago is the boom in domestic production, which has kept oil prices low and made ethanol even less attractive price-wise. But farmers have to be able to make a living.

So eliminating or reducing these corn-earmarks would be political suicide for a number of politicians of both parties who represent those states where corn is king. With Obama in office, these regulations are going nowhere.

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