Is Corn Ethanol Production Bad For The Environment?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Have you seen any recent articles about how "devastating" corn ethanol is to the environment? Setting aside the fact that corn was only the beginning and given what Joule Energy is doing, corn isn't the best thing to make ethanol from anyway (because its yield is so low compared to other feedstocks), it's still true that corn ethanol is being demonized unfairly. The following was published by the Renewable Fuels Association, who obviously have an ax to grind, but the points they make are accurate and should be included in our national conversation about fuel. Here's what they wrote:

The Associated Press has just published a new account of the effects of corn production and ethanol on the environment. The piece is appearing in newspapers across the country starting this week.

The AP calls it "investigative reporting." We call it salacious and unbalanced.

RFA staff spoke with the story's lead reporter numerous times, providing indisputable facts, peer-reviewed studies, and government data documenting ethanol's positive impacts. Instead, the writer chose to use disproven myths, skewed data, and outright fabrications to suggest biofuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard haven't lived up to their promise.

Here are just a few of the "facts" the AP got wrong or chose to ignore:
  • There is no evidence farmers are "plowing into pristine prairies." No new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005, and most is protected under "sodbuster" and "swampbuster" provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.
  • In the same vein, the AP claims to have used "government satellite data" to determine that "1.2 million acres of virgin land" have been converted to corn since 2006. But the AP has so far refused to release this "data."
  • No one is "filling in wetlands," as the article claims. Enrollment in the Wetland Reserve Program hit a record high of 2.65 million acres in 2012.
  • The article uses Wayne County, Iowa as a "case study" of corn's out-of-control growth. But corn acreage in that county went down in 2012 and was 34% lower than at its peak in 1986.
  • The article criticizes the rising use of corn for fuel instead of animal feed. But this ignores that for every bushel of corn that goes into producing ethanol, 17 pounds of livestock feed is returned to market. Because of this, on a net basis, livestock feed production still accounts for 50% of the corn supply, with ethanol only consuming 26%.

There's more. They've put together a PDF fact sheet covering some of the biggest flaws in the AP report: Myths Versus Facts.


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