NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is It Time to Stop Putting Food in Our Cars?

November 7, 2012

Current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements force companies to blend gasoline with ethanol. States are currently seeking waivers to avoid implementing the ethanol mandate for fear it will severely disrupt state and local economies. Additionally, research shows that the ethanol mandate inflicts environmental damage, raises food prices and distorts energy markets, say Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar, and Elizabeth DeMeo, a research assistant, at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • By 2016, the United States will have diverted up to 43 percent of its cropland to be used for ethanol.
  • However, this will divert crops for feeding people and livestock.
  • This causes high food prices in grain and meat, which can affect the entire world.

Some argue that the mandate helps lower fuel costs. However, the price of ethanol is the same as gasoline on an energy-equivalent basis. Many studies confirm that the reduced costs of gasoline production don't mean savings for consumers.

Using ethanol in gasoline poses a large threat to the environment.

  • For instance, refining only one gallon of corn requires 35 gallons of water.
  • On top of that, ethanol also pollutes water by have more fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in water ways due to increased ethanol production.
  • The runoff of these pollutants has created dead zones, which hurt aquatic ecosystems.

In addition to water, the land used in ethanol production is placed at risk. Millions of hectares need to be diverted for the sole purpose of growing corn for ethanol production, which trades off with more productive uses of land.

Despite the claim that ethanol fuel helps curb carbon emissions, ethanol actually increases more potent greenhouse gases than gasoline. Researchers are looking to using cellulosic ethanol to combat this problem; however there are not enough resources to convert into cellulosic ethanol.

Source: Kenneth P. Green and Elizabeth DeMeo, "Is It Time to Stop Putting Food in Our Cars?" The American, October 31, 2012.


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