The Great Ethanol "Debate" Heats Up

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
the great ethanol debate heats up

Even (or especially) as the Prez prepares to sign a bill increasing ethanol production to biblical proportions, The New York Times follows the Economist's lead and raises the alarm over ethanol production's impact on food prices. On the uh-oh side, Scott Faber, lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says E85 has the same “magical effect” on politicians as the tooth fairy and Santa Claus has on children. To which the vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association adds "We think there will be a day when people ask, ‘Why in the world did we do this?’” In the interests of balance, the Times points out that "experts with no stake in the argument" say ethanol is only one cause amongst many for rising food prices– and then fails to provide a single such expert. Ethanol baron Mark Leonard says nothing of E85's effect on food, only that “This is a national security issue more than anything else. We need to quit sending money to people who want to blow us up.” And [unnamed] researchers for the Renewable Fuels Association "contend that the link between corn prices and grocery prices is weak." I'm going with the guy from the National Grain and Feed Association. David Fairfield attribues "virtually all" of the increase in the price of corn– up 25 to 30 percent so far this year– to the demands of the ethanol industry. Put that in your corn cob pipe and smoke it.

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  • Engineer Engineer on Dec 18, 2007
    Point #1: H. sapiens already appropriates about 40% of the world’s photosynthetic production. There is not enough good ag land to come anywhere close to fueling the nation’s cars with corn-based ethanol. Ain't that the truth. Try explaining that to a politician. Point #2: that productivity is based in large part on fertilizer, which is produced from oil. True. But it doesn't have to be. Some day we may figure out a way to recover all the nutrients in wastewater, manure, stale food, etc. They took the calculating system for ethanol’s energy input v. output to task, and said that gasoline’s was even worse. As this guy puts it: If the energy balance was really this good for ethanol and that bad for gasoline, why would anyone ever make gasoline? Where would the economics be? Why would ethanol need subsidies to compete? It should be clear that the proponents in this case are promoting false information.
  • CarShark CarShark on Dec 18, 2007

    @whatdoIknow You know very well why that's the case. That's what people wanted. They want their next car to be longer, wider and more powerful. Inevitably, that means heavier. Why are they jumping for joy at 28mpg? Because they can hang with a Porsche Boxster down the straight with room for kids. That's what Americans like about cars. That's why CAFE is useless...because it penalizes the companies that give Americans what they want. You can't make people want smaller, lighter cars. So what do you propose? Legislation? Tax? Something else altogether?

  • Engineer Engineer on Dec 18, 2007
    Isn’t anyone here aware of Peak Oil? We are. We're just not spooked as easily as some... Conventional oil production has peaked. It has not. Global oil production (and use)is still increasing. Educate yourself, please. Preferably before commenting... Word Oil Demand, bbl/d 2003: 79.3 2004: 82.4 2005: 83.6 2006: 84.4 2007: 85.8 Here's a prediction: In 1874, the state geologist of Pennsylvania, the United States' leading oil-producing state, said that all the oil would be gone by 1878. Looks like some things never change... The era of cheap oil is over. You may be right on this one. And the problem is?
  • Captain Tungsten Captain Tungsten on Dec 19, 2007

    The main thing I learned from the Autoline Detroit broadcast is that a byproduct of the ethanol manufacturing process (they call it a co-product, what's the difference?) can be used as an animal feed to supplement corn. And one key point in the Economist's take on increasing food prices is that it creates an opportunity to eliminate subsidies to the farm industry, if the politicians have the stomach for it (which does not appear to be the case, unfortuantely)