New anti-ethanol commentary by environmental and food manufacturing organizations are “stirring up fear” among consumers at a time when all segments of the economy should be pulling together to bring about recovery.
The Washington-based Environmental Working Group and the Grocery Manufacturers Association seem to be intent on destroying the ethanol industry at a time when the country needs to be reducing rather than increasing its dependence on foreign oil, National Corn Growers Association officials say.
“These groups are stirring up fear for the American public when Americans are already struggling due to the faltering world economy, job losses and high costs of food brought on by some food companies’ record profits and greed,” said NCGA President Bob Dickey, a corn producer from Nebraska.
“The fact remains corn ethanol is here – and available today – to strengthen the U.S. economy, create new, U.S.-based jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Wind and solar power are good options for energy; however, these will take years to have the same impact that ethanol is having now.”
The National Corn Growers and other farm and renewable fuel groups have been battling negative attacks on ethanol since corn prices began to rise to record levels during the winter of 2007-08.
Higher corn prices first attracted the ire of livestock producers, but members of the food processing industry soon followed suit, blaming corn producers and ethanol for rising food costs. Since then, corn, soybean and wheat prices have fallen by 50 percent or more, but grocery prices have remained at the price levels established last spring.
Corn prices initially rose because of the growing demand for ethanol and a shortfall in corn production in 2007. Since then, producers have planted more corn and increased the corn surplus to 1.8 billion bushels.
While the EWG and the Grocery Manufacturers extolled the virtues of solar and wind power, they failed to mention the soaring costs of those alternative energy systems. A single wind turbine can cost $3 million to install and solar panel costs have been on the rise because of the energy required to fabricate them. The NCGA and the Renewable Fuels Association cited a new study by the University of Nebraska that shows increased environmental and economic benefits of ethanol, including:
• Ethanol production and use is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 59 percent compared to gasoline.
• The production and use of 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol in 2007 displaced 228 million barrels of imported oil valued at $16 billion. Ethanol experts expect those numbers to all increase in 2008.
• Ethanol has provided more than 260,000 jobs across the economy, with more growth expected.
• Water use by ethanol plants has been reduced by 26 percent since 2001.
America’s ethanol industry has added more than $34 billion of new revenue for the federal government since 1978 and reduced America’s cost of foreign oil by nearly $100 billion.
The NCGA’s Dickey also cited a January 2009 report from the “Field to Market” Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture program that provides a first-ever framework for measuring agriculture sustainability.
The initial index shows that soil-loss efficiency trends have improved substantially – by 30 to nearly 70 percent – for corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat. Energy use per unit of output is down in corn, soybean and cotton production by nearly 40 to more than 60 percent. Irrigated water use per unit of output has also decreased – 20 percent to nearly 50 percent – while carbon emissions per unit of output have dropped by about a third for these three crops.
Specifically, corn has seen the following changes between 1987 and 2007, Dickey noted.
1. Land use: The amount of land needed to produce one bushel has decreased 37 percent.
2. Soil loss: Manageable soil loss per bushel of corn has decreased by 69 percent.
3. Energy: The energy used to produce a bushel of corn has decreased by 37 percent.
4. Climate impact: Corn production has seen a 30 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions per bushel.
Efforts are continuing, meanwhile, to increase the production of ethanol from cellulosic materials other than corn. A new report from Sandia National Laboratories says the United States could produce 90 billion gallons of ethanol from biomass by 2030.
The United States is on track to achieve that potential if the country can keep anti-ethanol organizations from torpedoing the efforts, the Renewable Fuels Association said in a statement.
“America’s ethanol industry is evolving at a rate that ethanol critics either cannot or refuse to acknowledge,” it said. “Next generation technologies are deploying today, making the production of ethanol from grain as well as cellulosic material even more sustainable.
“In addition, forward looking public policy included in the Renewable Fuels Standard requires that biofuels meet or exceed very strict greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to gasoline, a point often forgotten or intentionally left out by ethanol naysayers.
The RFA said the failure of ethanol critics to recognize the rapid innovation of the renewable fuels industry and the current public policy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor fuels “exposes a huge blind spot in the energy priorities of those seeking to halt the progress of America’s renewable fuels industry.
“It is intentionally misleading to deny the concrete strides American farmers and ethanol producers are making to improve our energy security, mitigate the climate impacts of increasing petroleum consumption these groups seem to advocate, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic opportunity.”