Is ethanol an environmental disaster?

Photo: Some rights reserved,

Photo: Some rights reserved,

The big news in the agriculture world yesterday was the Associated Press' investigation making the case that President Obama's policy supporting ethanol production has been a disaster for the environment. According to the report, the ethanol mandate has driven farmers to plant corn fields where they don't belong:

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can't survive.

It's not new that people have been looking skeptically at the ethanol boom – for its effects on people's ability to buy corn to eat, and for the lingering questions over whether the fuel is any better for climate change than petroleum. But such a hard hitting investigation from one of the biggest brands in American journalism is a huge deal.

The renewable fuels industry has fired back, calling the report "one-sided" and "full of the same misinformation and falsehoods that ethanol detractors have been repeating for years." The trade group Fuels America immediately published a fact-check of its own about the AP's report.

What do you think about the use of ethanol in our gas? Do you seek it out or stay away? Both of these documents are must-reads for anyone interested in the ethanol debate.


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  1. Ethanol has ruined more than a few lawn mowers, snow blowers and other small pieces of machinery. You don't need to believe me, just ask a small engine repair shop.

  2. Not only is it an environmental disaster, but also a mechanical disaster. Hundreds of thousands, if millions of small engine carburetors have been damaged by the effect of ethanol on tiny rubber parts. Service people can't begin to keep up with the repairs which, while small, are expensive. I suppose it's good for sales of new mowers and machines… Maybe that was the plan.

    • You hit the nail on the head! Now, what happens to those mechanical devices that are to expensive to repair or to old to repair……landfill….pollution.

  3. Yes, a complete disaster.
    It's ruining many engines. It's destroying to the land. I't polluting the water. And it has driven up the cost of corn to eat and the price of gas.
    The AP report also noted wind power is killing many endangered species, including eagles.
    What a deal!

  4. A few years ago I flew to the west coast in clear weather. Looking out of the window, I saw little besides monocropped fields, hour after hour. Industrialized agriculture writes the checks that shape farm policy, in part by putting people in Congress from the farm states who will do their bidding. And, coincidentally, some of these same states are pretty important to the oil companies. Farming and ethanol, farmland and fracking – just can't help thinking that some icky-type things are happening behind the closed doors in Washington.

  5. One big problem in this and other energy and climate issues is that apparently politicians have a poor grasp of physics. Congress noted that we are importing oill from less-than-friendly sellers and said: "How can we produce our own liquid fuels from renewables?" So the well-known distillation of ethanol from fermented corn was seized on to help offset foreign oil imports. The real question should have been: "How can we use our indigenous renewable energy sources to best advantage from energy-efficiency and sustainabilty perpectives?" In other words: " how can we squeeze the most useful energy out of the various forms of renewable energy by minimizing conversion losses and matching appropriate sources with energy users?"

    Corn to ethanol is really very close to being a wash from an energy coversion efficiency standpoint. It creates the illusion that we arer doing something about fossil energy. It conforms to the too often evidenced credo of government policy: "it's not what you do, it's what you appear to do."