Same Dirty Fuel, Same Dirty Tricks
Corn ethanol boosters held yet another pep rally today (Sept. 27) for a dirty, inefficient fuel that has eliminated jobs, increased the price of food and gas, damaged engines and increased pollution. Yet it has replaced less than 1 percent of world oil.
So it’s no surprise that reforming the corn ethanol mandate is one of the few issues that brings together Democrats and Republicans. This mandate, passed by Congress in 2005 and later expanded in 2007, requires 15 billion gallons per year of conventional biofuels (mainly corn ethanol) to be blended into vehicle fuel by 2015.
Why the opposition?
One reason is that corn ethanol is destroying jobs in rural America. At a time when too many Americans are struggling to find work, it’s unconscionable that a government policy is making it even harder. But the corn ethanol mandate contributed to the closure of more than 60,000 pork, poultry, and beef operations since 2007. That’s because the mandate has diverted more than 40 percent of our corn crop to fuel, driving up the cost of feeding livestock. Animal agriculture supports more than 1.8 million jobs – or roughly 20 times as many jobs as the ethanol industry offers.
Another reason is that shifting food and feed to fuel is jacking up the price of food, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and other authoritative bodies.
Since Congress expanded the corn ethanol mandate in 2007, the Consumer Price Index for meat, poultry, fish and eggs has risen by 79 percent. The current drought has rendered corn supplies even scar. But under the mandate, corn ethanol continues to “eat first.”
For the poorest Americans, who spend a quarter or more of their income of food, spiking food prices add to their pain. For the global poor, the stakes are even higher. Oxfam, the international relief organization, has calculated that biofuels have endangered the livelihood of 100 million people and dragged more than 30 million people into poverty.
Corn ethanol puts pressure on gasoline prices. Because corn ethanol is far less efficient than gasoline, consumers have to use more to travel the same distance. On a per-mile basis, corn ethanol is more expensive than gasoline. By contrast, new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks will double their mileage per gallon and save Americans $1.7 trillion at the pump.
Blending corn ethanol into vehicle fuel has done little to address energy security. It has displaced some gasoline in the U.S. fuel supply but has not reduced oil imports, according to recent studies. Decreasing world oil demand by less than 1 percent is nothing to brag about.
Engines in older cars, boats, lawn mowers and chain saws can be damaged by ethanol. No wonder every major automaker opposes the introduction of higher ethanol blends into the market.
What’s more, ethanol is bad for the environment. Adding more ethanol to gasoline generates certain air pollutants linked to cancer and asthma. The corn ethanol mandate encourages farmers to plow up grasslands, wetlands, and forests, thereby releasing more carbon into the atmosphere and intensifying the use of farm chemicals that contribute to poor water quality. Since 2007, more than 23 million acres of wetlands and grasslands – an area the size of Indiana – has been converted to crops, mostly corn.
Now is the time to rethink the corn ethanol mandate, not recycle the same tired talking points in defense of a flawed policy that is costing jobs, increasing food and gas prices, damaging engines and polluting water. Continuing to require the blending of corn ethanol in to vehicle fuel won’t speed development of more advanced biofuels. It will cost consumers extra at the gas station, supermarket and engine repair shop.