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EDITORIAL

More evidence that ethanol isn't quite working out

Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 12:01 am

Does global warming fight justify damage to the environment?

Let the debate now rage over exactly how much environmental damage ethanol is creating.

The Associated Press, after an extensive investigation, reports that farmers rushing to find new places to grow corn have wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitats and polluted water supplies. Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than they did the year before ethanol. That includes 750,000 more acres in Indiana, where more than 28,000 acres of conservation land were lost.

Ethanol producers and corn farmers, in a strong pushback against the AP, say conservation land is being lost mostly because of congressional action and urbanization and other land uses. Furthermore, farmers continue improving the ways in which they treat the land with environmental sensitivity.

But it should be conceded that some damage is caused. For a program whose main purpose is to “fight global warming,” how much damage is acceptable?

This is just one more controversy to add to the lost list of reasons why the whole ethanol program should be scrapped as ill-conceived and counterproductive.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable-fuel standards require 16.55 billion gallons of biofuels, most ethanol, to be consumed in the U.S. this year. Under legislation passed in 2007, 36 billion gallons must be used by 2022. Ethanol became the No. 1 use for American corn in 2010. Just imagine what percentage of corn acreage will be devoted to ethanol in the coming years? How did anybody ever think it was a good idea to put our fuel and food needs into competition for the same product?

Unfortunately, ethanol now has a strong lobby – what government program doesn’t? Those trying to end the program will run into arguments about all the jobs it provides. That’s always a powerful argument, but it especially resonates in an economy that continues to be fragile.

Alas, ethanol is just one component of a dubious green energy program that has cost billions and will cost billions more while delivering precious little. The use of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix is the same as it was 25 years ago, about 82 percent. Nudging up the percentage of renewable fuel will bear an incredible per-unit cost for energy.

Those who keep pushing for green energy are trying to hurry the future. Things happen when it’s time for them to happen, not when we merely want them to. When the point has been reached at which renewable energy sources make sense economically and technologically it will happen.