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Corn Ethanol: A Bad Idea Looks Even Worse

Friday, January 30, 2015

Growing corn to make fuel for your car just doesn’t work. And reversing government policies that require it would ease a world of problems.

A report released this week (Jan. 29) by the World Resources Institute had this to say:

Reducing bioenergy demand for food crops would make more food available for human consumption and should therefore lower food costs and benefit the poor. Reducing bioenergy demand for food crops would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help limit further conversion of natural land-based ecosystems to agriculture.

The report by the non-partisan research organization also concludes that cutting the amount of food crops used to produce biofuel could improve global food security, especially for women in developing countries, as well as help preserve water quality and quantity.

In the United States, we grow a lot of corn. According to USDA, nine of the 10 largest American corn harvests on record came in the past ten years.

But all this American corn doesn’t feed people; it feeds cows and cars. As much as 30-to-40 percent of U.S.-grown corn ends up in gas tanks.

EWG has long pointed out that blending all this corn ethanol into gasoline carries a steep cost. There’s lots of evidence that it drives up greenhouse gas emissions, worsens air and water pollution and lowers your gas mileage

Congress could begin to mitigate those problems by ending the corn ethanol mandate it created in 2007.

Notably, the World Resources Institute report, whose main author is Princeton University researcher Tim Searchinger, calls for ending all biofuels mandates – not just for corn ethanol – saying “countries and regions … should phase out these mandated targets and financial support packages.”

On that point, however, EWG disagrees. We support efforts to develop truly “green” biofuels that are good for the environment and won’t compete with food. And we’re not alone.

Jason Hill, a well-respected researcher at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times that it would be premature to abandon research on second-generation biofuels that might yet prove to have economic and environmental benefits. 

We couldn’t agree more.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Photo by Michael Dorausch.


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