Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 1, 2014

Key Environmental Policy is Damaging the Environment

An investigation has uncovered a highly damaging outcome to a key environmental policy initiative. Simply put, the Obama administration’s support of corn-based ethanol as a fuel alternative is damaging the environment

Washington Post: “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, an Associated Press investigation found.”

“The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its economic benefits to the farming industry.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defending the policy, said “we are committed to this industry because we understand its benefits … We understand it’s about farm income. It’s about stabilizing and maintaining farm income which is at record levels.”

The conclusion: “What was once billed as an environmental boon has morphed into a government program to help rural America survive.”

  • CJR

    Putting ethanol into fuel was an effort to oxygenate fuel so it would burn more completely. But this was only true with cars built before about 1984.
    Since then, cars have had O2 sensors that can add or reduce the amount of fuel burned to maximize the amount of combustion.
    After around 1985, the argument was that adding ethanol to gasoline stretched the fuel supply. But, because ethanol has less energy in it than gasoline, mileage went DOWN when cars burned ethanol. Even worse, cars with O2 sensors would get even WORSE mileage because it would sense too much oxygen in the exhaust, and compensate by adding MORE fuel.
    In addition, using food crops (and arable land) in order to grow fuel depletes the food supply. Increases in crop prices were a primary cause for the Arab Spring. Mass social discord is not a good side effect of a policy.
    Aside from the technological and economic reasons not to use corn to grow ethanol, there are the health effects of putting so much corn into our food supply. We add high fructose corn syrup to almost EVERYTHING we eat. It’s simply not healthy.

    If we stop the subsidies for growing corn, farmers are going to get hit. But there’s no economic REASON to keep using corn to grow ethanol. With all that arable land freed up, what ELSE could we grow that would help feed the world?

  • gjdodger

    The Conservation Reserve, which was initially promoted as an environmental boon, also morphed into a program designed to boost farmer incomes. It was created in the 1985 Farm Bill and pays farmers to idle fragile cropland, but that was the era of huge surpluses and very low crop prices. The article indicated five million acres have been taken out of the CRP for corn production, but Congress has been reducing the maximum enrollment of the CRP; given the federal budget, do you really want the government to keep paying farmers to not grow crops, on land that was in crop production before 1985?

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