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The ethanol debacle

By Alan Caruba
web posted January 22, 2007

Hating so-called "fossil fuels", coal, oil, and natural gas, with a passion, the environmentalists have perpetrated every deception possible and, among them, is the notion that Americans can avoid destroying the Earth if they just fill up the tanks of their automobiles with ethanol.

As I have pointed out in the past, the world is not running out of oil and, here in the United States, we have enough reserves of coal to provide electricity and other needs for centuries to come. So who has the new Democrat majority in Congress declared persona non grata? The oil industry. Their proposed "answer" to our transportation energy needs is ethanol.

Instead of pandering to the environmentalist's obsession over fossil fuels, Congress should be making areas in and around the United States more accessible to exploration and extraction of known oil and natural gas supplies. That is the true definition of "energy independence."

This has not occurred because most of America's onshore energy is in the West and Alaska where more than half the land is under federal control. We are talking about estimates, according to the U.S. Interior Department, of 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 21 billion barrels of oil, representing 76 percent of onshore federal oil and gas resources.

That's enough natural gas to supply all of America's households for the next 39 years. In terms of oil, it is comparable to more than 30 years of current imports from Saudi Arabia. Currently, Congress permits access to just three percent of onshore federal oil and 13 percent of onshore federal gas under standard lease terms.

While the Democrats in Congress proceed toward anointing ethanol as the "answer" to our transportation energy needs, 5l percent of the oil and 27 percent of the natural gas known reserves are completely off-limits to use.

On January 10, the Senate Agriculture Committee convened to discuss two proposed bills, the "American Fuels Act" and the "BioFuels Security Act." They are aimed at creating artificial markets for ethanol and biodiesel. Their advocates will tout them as providing "energy independence." What they won't tell you is that they will wreak havoc on the economy, needlessly raising the cost of food,

One of the great ironies of the ethanol bandwagon is that a leading environmentalist, Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, understands better than most how bad an idea it is. Brown recently called for a moratorium on the building of ethanol plants in the United States "so we can catch our breath and determine how much we want to harvest our corn for ethanol."

Brown finds himself sharing the same pew as Tom Tanton, vice president of the Institute for Energy Research and host of www.factsonEnergy.org. There are many reasons why ethanol is not the answer to our need for gasoline to fuel our automobiles. Here are just a few:

Ethanol provides about 34 percent less energy output than gasoline. Thus the miles traveled per gallon on ethanol are greatly reduced.

Ethanol increases the price per gallon by 20 to 80 cents and, at the same time, requires more stops to refuel.

Ethanol is so corrosive it must be transported by truck or rail because it will damage pipelines. Imagine what it does to the engine of your automobile?

Ethanol, when transportation, refining, and farming costs are factored into its production for fuel, provides negligible energy gains.

Ethanol, thanks to the subsidies and mandates by Congress, has driven the price of corn to 10-year-highs. This increases the cost to feedlot owners who feed corn to cattle and pigs, forcing the cost of these food stocks to rise.

Ethanol production has doubled from 2001 to 2005 and could double again by the 2008 harvest season, providing 15 billion gallons or approximately six percent of U.S. auto fuel needs. Let me repeat that, six percent! And all the time this is occurring, the price of everything else that involves corn production goes up with no appreciable increase in energy value.

Finally, as Brown points out, since U.S. corn accounts for one-fourth of all grain exports, a rise in the price "could create food riots in low-income areas around the world."

There is, based solely on these facts, no good reason to build a single new plant for the production of ethanol, nor for any Congressional mandates to force every driver to fill their tank with a mixture of ethanol and gasoline.

It is an energy debacle of enormous proportions and it exists because global warming doomsayers in Congress have imposed the worst possible "answer" on everyone and are likely to compound that mistake knowing that most Americans haven't a clue about the true facts. ESR

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. His book, "Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy", is published by Merril Press. © Alan Caruba, January 2007

 

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