Using ethanol to replace gasoline comes at a cost to economy, environment

A letter in the November issue of the Bay Journal lauded ethanol as an ideal gasoline substitute for fighting pollution and terrorism and producing tax dollars.

Ethanol is an excellent additive to replace MBTE as the anti-smog agent in automobile exhaust, but it has its own environmental problems.

Moreover, ethanol does not produce tax dollars, it uses them: Ethanol production is subsidized with federal tax dollars at the rate of 51 cents a gallon.

In addition, fossil fuels are used in growing, harvesting and transporting the crops used to produce ethanol.

Because of this, substituting corn-based ethanol—corn is the main source of U.S. ethanol—for gasoline reduces greenhouse gas emissions over gasoline by only 20 percent.

Eventually, ethanol might be used in place of fossil fuels on the farm, but that solution also runs into the problem that the land area needed to produce the quantity of ethanol needed to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in transportation and farm equipment is enormous.

Ethanol production competes for farmland with crops needed to feed people and animals. It is not unreasonable to expect food prices to rise because of this competition. At the current federal subsidy level for ethanol, one can envision farmers re-cropping conservation reserves and soil banks.

Clearing forests for additional land to produce ethanol is a reasonable speculation.

Agricultural expansion is unlikely to be good for Chesapeake Bay.

The letter pointed out that Brazil is to be envied for heading toward transportation fuel self-sufficiency using ethanol. But that comes at a non-enviable environmental cost. Sugar cane is the crop used for ethanol in Brazil and it is grown on an immense area of land that was originally forested.

It is good to keep in mind that the major contributor to loss of tropical forests is expanding agriculture.

An ethanol-based fuel economy threatens forests.

Tom Geary
Washington, D.C. & Tilghman, MD