Subsidies for Ethanol Expire, but Corn Ain

Subsidies for Ethanol Expire, but Corn Ain

Susan Cosier
Published: 01/05/2012

Three decades of federal ethanol subsidies ended on January 1st without much of a fight from supporters. The reason: Soaring prices thanks to a mandate that an increasing amount of ethanol be mixed into gasoline.

Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said to The New York Times, “With record deficits and a ballooning national debt, it was ludicrous to expect taxpayers to pay billions to prop up a mature industry that should be able to fend for itself.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard, first created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and then expanded in 2007, now requires that 36 billion gallons of ethanol be mixed into transportation fuel by 2022, a stipulation that the Obama Administration reviewed and then accepted two years ago.

Yet, as the authors of a 2008 paper published in Science Express stated, “Corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gasses for 167 year.”

Ballooning prices also cajole farmers to take their lands out of the Conservation Reserve Program, a 25-year-old program that pays farmers to keep environmentally sensitive land out of crop production, and convert them to cropland.

“Experts say 2012 is likely to be a tipping point for conservation across the Upper Midwest. Some 300,000 acres in Minnesota—one fifth of the land now set aside through the CRP—will be up for grabs as federal contracts come up for renewal,” writes Josephine Marcotty of the Twin Cities’ Star Tribune. She goes on to say that “in the following years, millions more acres in Minnesota, North and South Dakota—critical prairie and wetland habitat for a fourth of the nation's migratory birds—may also fall to the plow as farmers choose between leaving it to nature or converting it to cash crops. Many predict that nature will be the loser,” she goes on to say.

Not only that, but as Ted Williams pointed out in an Audubon article in 2004, ethanol in gasoline is also bad for health. “Adding ethanol to our fuel supply causes air pollution," said Peter Iwanowicz, then director of the American Lung Association of New York State in the article. "You have more vapor emissions when you're refueling and when your car is sitting in a parking lot on a hot summer day. And ethanol can degrade systems in cars, so you'll get more leaks."

Even though many are heralding the expiration as a success, it seems that corn is still the future.

Related Story
For information on an alternative biofuel source, check out our story titled "Grass is Greener."