Q: What churned up 5M acres of never-before-plowed land, increased carbon output, poisoned rivers, and drove up food prices for the poor?

A: Ethanol.

Yes, gasoline from corn does all that and more.

In what Million Dollar Way calls a Cronkite moment, the AP has a major story out, the title of which I will edit to make neutral as to political parties, since ethanol is the official policy of one R and one D administration:  The secret, dirty cost of {two administration’s} green power push.

Here’s a bit of the information the AP reported:

Environmental damage

The overall conclusion:

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. 

Five million acres of land has been pulled out of conservation and converted to corn. That is typically grass land that apparently has never been plowed and is marginal for corn production.

Plowing what has always been grassland apparently releases CO2. So much that

Plowing over conservation land releases so much greenhouse gas that it takes 48 years before new plants can break even and start reducing carbon dioxide.

The article discusses the increase in fertilizers and resulting runoff.

Just change the assumptions to get the result you want

Of fascination to me is that the main argument for ethanol is the reduction in greenhouse gases. After the bill was signed the EPA looked at the numbers and using their best assumptions, concluded there wasn’t much of an impact.

As a way to reduce global warming, they knew corn ethanol was a dubious proposition. Corn demands fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. What’s worse, ethanol factories typically burn coal or gas, both of which release carbon dioxide.

Add those in and ethanol isn’t such a great deal.

Well, that was just unacceptable.

The final regulations revised a number of assumptions (see the article for the list) and, presto change-o, ethanol will cut greenhouse gasses as much as wished.

But when reality intruded, specifically, yield per acre didn’t increase by 53%, corn prices skyrocketed, the energy needed to create the additional fertilizer is considered, along with the coal and gas burned in the conversion process, and 5M never-plowed acres going from conservation to production (releasing all that Co2), everyone realized the goal hadn’t been met.

What is the overall environmental result?

Umm. No one knows.

There isn’t time or staffing to do a study.

I can’t make this up. The AP story says:

The EPA could revisit its model and see whether ethanol is actually as good for the environment as officials predicted. But the agency says it doesn’t have the money or the manpower.

Impact on food prices and thus on the poor

Via Media discusses the AP report in The Planet Wrecking Greens. He mentions the impact on the poor, for whom food consumes a disproportionate share of income:

In their rush to fulfill rising government quotas for corn ethanol, farmers weren’t just planting new fields in conserved land, they were also reallocating what they did with existing corn crops. Before the ethanol mandate, just 23 percent of America’s corn crops went towards producing ethanol. Last year, 43 percent of our crops went towards the biofuel. The result: a constricted global food supply, which has led to higher food prices abroad. Those higher prices are starving the world’s poor, and may even be inciting riots.

The embedded links are to other articles by Via Meadia.

Damage to engines, damage to environment, damage to poor

Carpe Diem sums it up well:  What’s to like about ethanol? It ruins car engines, it’s bad for the environment, and it raises taxes, gas, and food prices.

From the article:

Question: Really, what is there to like about corn ethanol and the RFS (RFS = renewable fuel standard, the law that requires burning corn in cars)?

Answer: Absolutely nothing, unless of course, you’re part of a small group of rent-seeking corn growers and ethanol producers, who rely on government mandates to force people to buy your products. Otherwise, corn ethanol is a bad deal for everybody else: it’s an inferior fuel that damages automobile engines and fuel systems, it’s bad for the environment, it has forced US taxpayers to spend billions of dollars in ethanol subsidies, it requires more energy to produce than it generates, and it raises fuel and food prices for consumers.

Well, other than all that, I guess it is okay.

Could someone explain to me in the comment section why burning corn in our cars is economically sensible? Environmentally responsible? Could someone explain why it can even be considered moral?

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