Environmental Law Blog
Corn Belt Controversy
Ethanol has rapidly become one of the most important fuel extenders and alternative fuel blends in America (think "E-85" pick up trucks). According to the Soy Daily, an online web magazine located at http://thesoydailyclub.com, 95% of the United States' ethanol is produced from corn, and as of August of 2007, there were 124 ethanol plants in operation throughout the United States. More than 200 additional plants have been proposed.
One bushel of corn can produce at least 2.8 gallons of ethanol, and one acre of corn can produce approximately 500 gallons of ethanol, which is enough to fuel six cars for one year with a 10% ethanol-blend. Missouri law mandates a 10% ethanol-blend in all of the gas sold in this State for that very reason.
The United States' increasing reliance on ethanol has, however, sparked some controversy. On the up side, ethanol production creates a higher-yielding market for farmers throughout the corn belt; it creates jobs, reduces our foreign dependency on oil, and may be the key to saving family farms. In fact, increased production and use of renewable fuels, like ethanol, could create an additional $91.5 billion in family income over the next 15 years. Furthermore, consumers could save approximately $7.8 billion between 2002 and 2016 in the form of reduced government farm subsidies by expanding their purchases of renewable fuels. For more pro-ethanol facts and consumer information, check out www.iowacorn.org.
Some scientists have pointed out, however, that for each gallon of ethanol produced, typical ethanol plants consume 3.5 to 6 gallons of water and produce 12 gallons of a sewage-like effluent as a result of the fermentation and distillation process. The sewage-like effluents threaten fish and plants because they contain chemicals that deprive the water of oxygen as they decompose. Moreover, the corn belt has lost more than 70 percent of its wetlands as farmers seek out more land to meet the increasing demand for corn. Wetlands serve a vital function in the fish and wildlife ecosystems of every state in the country. And, last but not least, ethanol production is extremely energy intensive; most ethanol plants burn natural gas or coal to meet energy needs.
Environmental threats aside, farmers cannot produce more corn than their fields will allow them to grow. As demand for corn increases, supplies have largely remained the same. As a result, food costs may rise as the demand for ethanol increases. For more information on the potentially negative side to over reliance on ethanol, check out the Soy Daily's website at http://thesoydailyclub.com.
What do you think Missouri should do when it comes to ethanol production and policy? Is ethanol the key to future energy independence or should we keep searching for a more environmentally-friendly solution, such as using switch-grass for ethanol production?