Green with greed
The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Whether or not that’s true, it sure seems to have affected the roots of corn.
The motivation for the 2007 federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that 10 percent of transportation fuel includes renewable fuels, seemed to be a blend of politics and environmental concern, with money the ultimate influence. Those fuels are mostly ethanol, derived mainly from corn, and production of the grain soared, fattening the wallets of those in the agricultural industry even as it depleted the pocketbooks of consumers of corn products.
Environment hurt more than helped
The whole idea behind the fuel standard was that fuels from sources such as corn would reduce greenhouse gases and help the environment. Even though the opposite has happened, support for the standard by the Obama administration has continued as Midwest farmers, especially those in politically important Iowa, prosper.
Vast field of corn
Thus, lust for power would seem to have been an important ingredient in the biofuels policy. The Associated Press did an extensive investigation of the push for corn-derived ethanol and reported in November, “With the Iowa political caususes on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming.” However, AP said, “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.” Five million acres of land set aside for conservation, including wetlands and pristine prairies, were converted to cornfields, releasing carbon dioxide contained in the soil. Some of the billions of pounds of fertilizer to grow the corn seeped into drinking water, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, killing marine life.
Experts eschew ethanol
Ethanol production plant
“The consequences are so severe,” Erika Johnsen blogged on Hot Air, “that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy.” The AP quoted Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group: “This is an ecological disaster.” Once allied with the president, it now finds itself opposing this policy issue because it has resulted in more environmental harm than benefit. “But,” wrote Johnsen, “the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.”
What may have started out as a politically motivated embrace of the biofuel seems to have morphed into a difference over environmental policy. The AP said that despite the harmful ecological effects of increased corn production, “it’s a cost the administration is willing to accept. 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. Pulling the plug on corn ethanol, officials fear, might mean killing any hope of these next-generation fuels.”
Food costs climb
Nicolás Gutierrez, chairman of the Florida Energy Forum, noted that corn is in much of the food we consume, and livestock for meat and dairy products eat corn. Thus, when that food staple is diverted to ethanol production, our food costs rise. What he didn’t say was that corn has been genetically modified to increase crop yields, and a controversy rages over the health aspects of such corn. Most people continue to eat food made partly with corn, however, and they are paying higher prices for that food.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the Renewable Fuel Standard to determine whether to lower the ethanol requirement in fuel. As it does so, Gutierrez said in newspaper column, it should consider the economic impact versus the low environmental benefit. “It’s time to back off this outdated policy that is bad for consumers, bad for small businesses and hinders our country’s growth,” Gutierrez wrote. “What is needed is continued smart vehicle technology and continued expansion of energy sources that rein in our dependence on foreign oil.”
Almost everybody is against the ethanol policy, including environmentalists, oil companies, car manufacturers and consumers, Johnsen wrote. “The only politicians who can bring themselves to defend it are the really stubborn eco-minded Democrats and those on both sides of the aisle with regional corn interests in their respective districts. It’s high time to get rid of this boondoggle once and for all.”