NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Damage Caused by Ethanol

December 2, 2013

The next-generation biofuels that were supposed to wean the country off corn haven't yet materialized. Every year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts millions of gallons of clean fuel will be made from agricultural waste. Every year, the government is wrong, says the Associated Press.

Every day without those cleaner-burning fuels, the ethanol industry stays reliant on corn and the environmental effects mount. But 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.

  • Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom.
  • 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 survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. Obama administration officials know the ethanol mandate hasn't lived up to its billing. In June, when Obama gave a major policy speech on reducing greenhouse gas, he didn't mention ethanol. Biofuels in general received a brief, passing reference. What was once billed as an environmental boon has morphed into a government program to help rural America survive.

Congress and the administration could change the ethanol mandate, tweak its goals or demand more safeguards. Going to Congress and rewriting the law would mean picking a fight with agricultural lobbyists, a fight that would put the administration on the side of big oil companies, which despise the ethanol requirement.

Source: Dina Cappiello, "The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama's Green Power Push," Associated Press, November 12, 2013.


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