As promised, the Associated Press has recently fallen out of favor with Big Ethanol (tragedy strikes!) over their big report released today that finally, earnestly picks up on what opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard and other biofuels subsidies have been insisting for ages now: That corn ethanol is not the helpful climate-change panacea that its advocates are incessantly, deliberately misrepresenting it as, and in fact, on net evaluation, the government’s wildly political biofuels push has brought about more long-term environmental harm than good.
The AP sets it up pertinently, noting that the window just before the Iowa caucuses in 2007 seemed like a mighty fine time for President Obama to make corn ethanol a central part of his much-vaunted plans for combating climate change, but it’s all been downhill since the federal government started artificially incentivizing farmers to bring marginal lands into production, with a vengeance:
But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.
No kidding. I’d encourage you to read on for a pretty fair rundown of how we got into this egregious mess, and the AP has plenty of examples that attest to one big, overarching theme: Nobody likes ethanol except for the ethanol lobby. Not environmentalists, not oil companies, not car manufacturers, not consumers (remember: the RFS is a consumer mandate). The only politicians who can bring themselves to defend it are the really stubborn eco-minded Democrats and those on both sides of the aisle with regional corn interests in their respective districts. It’s high time to get rid of this boondoggle once and for all.