U.S. Ethanol Policy's Hidden Environmental CostsNov 13, 2013
In 2007, when President George W. Bush signed the law requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country "stronger, cleaner and more secure." But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised.
Farmers seeking new places to plant corn have wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, and have destroyed habitats and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press (AP) investigation found. Five million acres of land set aside for conservation has vanished since the law went into effect. This land area is greater than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined, according to the AP.
And not only have vast tracts of once-pristine land been lost, but corn production requires billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeps into drinking water, contaminates rivers, and worsens the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, where marine life can't survive, the AP reports.
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and some of it now grows in areas not especially well suited to corn, the AP reports. But there is high demand for corn, not only for ethanol but also for animal feed and sweeteners for food products.
The AP investigation questions the environmental costs of ethanol and the government oversight of the industry, saying that the administration has been overly optimistic in calculating such things as corn yields and careless in its accounting of the downsides. The report says the Obama administration has allowed so-called green energy producers to do not-so-green things because it believes supporting corn ethanol is the best way to encourage the development of biofuels that will someday be cleaner and greener than today's fuels.
The AP report charges that the government has not properly factored in the environmental impact of manufacturing the needed fertilizer and the carbon dioxide released by ethanol plants, which burn coal or gas.
Despite predictions, the AP reports, the next-generation biofuels that were supposed to wean the country off corn haven't yet materialized.