The Associated Press is
running a terrific and long investigative article, “The
Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama’s Green Power Push,” on the
environmental downsides of the ethanol fuel mandate. From the
…the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the
environment than politicians promised and much worse than the
government admits today.
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped
out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and
polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more
than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined —
have vanished on Obama’s watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine
prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of
which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened
the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many
scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad
environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it,
highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than
before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like
south central Iowa.
Besides these negative effects, it is doubtful that producing
corn ethanol has much, if any effect, on reducing the greenhouse
gas emissions that are thought to be contributing to man-made
global warming. Nevertheless, industry lobbyists fought hard to get
the EPA to jigger the numbers so that ethanol would look good in
this respect. As the AP explains:
Writing the regulations to implement the ethanol mandate was
among the administration’s first major environmental undertakings.
Industry and environmental groups watched closely.
The EPA’s experts determined that the mandate would increase
demand for corn and encourage farmers to plow more land.
Considering those factors, they said, corn ethanol was only
slightly better than gasoline when it came to carbon dioxide
Sixteen percent better, to be exact. And not in the short term.
Only by 2022.
By law, though, biofuels were supposed to be at least 20 percent
greener than gasoline.
The AP reports that the EPA bowed to lobbyist pressure and
changed its assumptions, i.e., boosting its estimates of average
yields to 230 bushels per acre and corn prices leveling off at
$3.22 per bushel. In the 2013 bumper crop year, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture estimates yields will be just over
160 bushels per acre and corn prices are currently around
$4.30 per bushel.
It is worth your while to read the entire depressing article.
For more background see my 2010 article about my
visit to an ethanol plant in Aberdeen, SD. Also see Reason
TV’s 2008 video in which I outline the harms of ethanol
from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/11/12/obamas-corn-ethanol-environmental-disast