Monday, November 18, 2013

Environmental Impacts of Ethanol

Nice long piece by the Associated Press about the impacts of ethanol. Everything that we've talked about last month and some issues we'll discuss soon such as the Conservation Reserve Program come up. A short summary: five million acres set aside for conservation have been put under the plow as corn prices rose, and about 45% of the produced corn is for ethanol. (Another about 45% goes for animal feed.) Although they've done and redone the math estimating the effects of the ethanol policy, the final conclusion is that the program is at best a wash with respect to the environmental impacts. However, like any other program, it has taken on a life of its own: now all of the beneficiaries are willing to spend a lot of money to make sure that the mandate to produce a certain amount of corn ethanol continues to be the law of the land. Rural areas depend upon the policy and come to see it as their right. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks about how it has locked in farm income at record high levels, and so he doesn't want to change it. He says that air and water quality have improved, but the article notes that the billions of pounds of fertilizer used over the past few years lead to poisoned water sources. Maybe it's not worse than burning that much fossil fuels, but it's no free lunch.

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