In Terms of Ethanol, Corny Is Not Funny

Today’s NY Times has an excellent op ed on corn ethanol.  In terms of the environmental impact, the author (Russell Harding) says:

. . . .  if ethanol use was really helping the environment, it might be worth putting up with higher costs. But many environmental groups dropped their support for corn-based ethanol after two studies published by the journal Science last February concluded that ethanol production actually increases the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The main culprit is large-scale conversion of forest and grassland to corn production. Researchers at Princeton University estimate it would take 167 years of ethanol use in cars to offset the release of carbon from converting lands to agricultural production.

Outside of the farm lobby, it’s hard to find anyone with a good word to say about corn ethanol.  About the best you can say is that corn ethanol may have helped accustom Americans to the idea of non-gasoline fuels, which could help pave the way for second-generation biofuels.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “In Terms of Ethanol, Corny Is Not Funny”

  1. How does corn ethanol “accustom Americans to the idea of non-gasoline fuels?” Consumers buy the cheapest fuel available. Most don’t know or care about what is mixed into it. Couldn’t you also argue that it enables the internal combustion engine and the car culture?

  2. I agree with Russ. People don’t care about fuel, as long as it’s cheap, works, and won’t damage their vehicle. Sustainability is a nice after thought. Hopefully we get some sustainable fuel though, then we can start to concentrate on more pressing issues.

  3. It is worrisome reading about the administration’s new push to dramatically increase the production of ethanol, especially after the lack of backing from prominent environmental organizations as well as contradictions with California’s reports. We are taking a big risk creating artificial demand for a product when we are uncertain of the effects it will have on our environment and our economy. Much more research is needed to create the best possible assumptions for analysis.

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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