Corn to ethanol is big business. The Federal Government pays ethanol producers 50 cents for every gallon of ethanol they produce. Corn farmers are riding a boom in corn prices not seen in their lifetimes. All sorts of groups, consortiums, corporations, and communities are trying to get on the gravy train.
And for what? Ethanol production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will make us 3.7% less dependent on imported oil by the year 2017. Wow. These figures only use oil as an input in the production and ignore the use of natural gas to produce the additional fertilizer demand from increased corn production. And, an increase in corn production there will be.
In the 1970’s the major agricultural colleges like the University of Illinois were telling farmers to tear out their fence rows and plant every square inch of ground they could. With prices high, as they are now farmers will be looking for more square inches to plant in corn. The result will only be more environmental destruction.
The Department of Agriculture’s statements about ethanol ignore the myriad inputs of fossil fuels. These include, but, are not limited to, the use of fossil fuels to produce the fertilizers and the seed to grow a crop, the use of fossil fuels to transport the crop, and clean up the aftermath of production such as wastewater disposal. Taking these factors into account the figures indicate ethanol production consumes six times the energy it produces.
How did we get here. Archer Daniels Midland of Decatur Illinois began promoting ethanol production in the halls of congress in the 1970’s. Remember the Oil Crisis of the 1970’s. There is no coincidence here. And there is no coincidence that Archer Daniels Midland is one of the largest grain processors in the world. ADM has facilities to produce 1,103.000 gallons of ethanol per year which means they will receive in the neighborhood of $ 562,000,000 per year in government subsidies.
All of this is your tax dollars going for the production of something that does us no good whatsoever. Ethanol production, in its best case scenario given out by the Department of Agriculture, will not contribute in any significant way to reducing our dependency on foreing energy imports. Ethanol production drains off resources that could be applied to developing real energy alternatives. Ethanol production does nothing to actually reduce greenhouse gas production.
There have been some congress people from states not benefiting from the ethanol subsidies that have begun to question the worth of the ethanol subsidies. I happen to live in Ilinois where the ethanol boom has farmers smiling like a bunch of cats in a creamery. But the real smiles have to be in the boardrooms of those companies running the ethanol processing plants. In fact, my guess is there are more than smiles to be seen. You can probably hear them laughing all the way to the bank.