Friday, February 4, 2011

Victory for Hunger: EPA Diverts More Corn to Ethanol

A corn storehouse in Tanzania
Corn is one of the world's most important staple crops. In Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, where corn is most important, about 1 billion people get most of their energy and nutrients from corn. 

Americans are also highly dependent on corn, which is eaten not only as sweet corn, corn flakes, and corn chips, but also in some form in many processed foods, including baked goods and canned goods. Corn also is a major feed for dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens.

When less corn is available and corn prices rise,  people who subsist primarily on corn tragically suffer serious want, and American consumers, though less dependent on corn, start tightening their belts too.

It's obvious that diverting one-third of America's corn crop to providing energy for motor vehicles is a terrible, terrible idea, but that's what we've been doing. The gasoline you put into your vehicle's tank likely contains about 10% ethanol, a kind of grain alcohol that is a very inefficient fuel compared to gasoline. 

Worse, last fall the Obama's EPA raised the 10% ethanol allowable in most gasoline blends to 15% for cars manufactured after 2007, which will put even more stress on the world's food supply. It takes about 26 pounds of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol. That's a lot of corn flakes.

Are you thinking that we will be getting our ethanol from grass sources or sugar cane? Sorry. Making ethanol from switchgrass is possible, but complicated. And Brazilian ethanol made from sugar cane is made prohibitively expensive here by a 54 cent-per-gallon tariff protecting American corn growers and ethanol distilleries. The reality is that about 98% of all American ethanol is made from corn.

That translates into 14% of all the corn grown in the world being poured into America's gas tanks. 

From Steve McCann at American Thinker:
Thus, the future price of corn per bushel in January 2011 is $6.51, as compared to $3.84 in January 2010 -- an increase of nearly 70%.
Imagine what an increase like that is doing to a family spending more than half their income on food in Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa, and imagine how it will continue to be reflected in the prices you pay for milk, cheese, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, cold cuts, breakfast cereal, baked goods, canned vegetables, catsup and salad dressing, snack foods, soda, etc., etc., etc. It isn't pretty.

It also isn't necessary. Ethanol is not an efficient fuel, and it isn't good for your motor vehicle. From USA Today:
"The new ethanol blends, known as E-15, come with serious risks for our engines, wildlife, water, and the air we all breathe," warns Nathanael Greene at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activist group.
"A broad coalition of environmentalists, public health advocates, livestock ranchers, and automakers have long opposed EPA's move," he says. "Burning ethanol can cause toxic air pollutants to be emitted from vehicle tailpipes, especially at higher blend levels like E-15. The chemistry is fairly straightforward: ethanol burns hotter than gasoline, causing catalytic converters to break down faster."
All kinds of other motors that run on gasoline are at even greater risk from E-15: motorcycles, boats, law mowers, weed eaters. If it has a motor and runs on gasoline, expect the unexpected when it comes to the new higher-ethanol blend. And expect your warranty to no longer apply.

If American food consumers, the world's poor, and the environment will not benefit, who will be the winners? The answer: 54 ethanol manufacturers. These ethanol distillers already benefit from a 45 cent-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol into gasoline.

From The Wall Street Journal:
The cause of boosting ethanol use in cars has been strongly championed by Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group led by Wesley Clark, the retired Army general and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
Gen. Clark's group petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency last year to allow ethanol levels in gasoline blends to be as high as 15%, up from the current 10%.
The ethanol industry has lobbied to boost the blend limit because holding the current 10 percent standard would limit the size of the U.S. ethanol industry to somewhere between 13 billion gallons and 13.5 billion gallons, depending on gasoline demand. But the industry has construction projects underway that would boost its annual capacity beyond 13.5 billion gallons in a matter of months.
The country's largest producer of ethanol and of corn is Iowa, home of the very important Iowa caucus, the first chance American voters have to show support for a presidential candidate. Candidates who do well in the Iowa caucus get a real boost, a boost that the EPA, next time around, wants to harvested by Barack Hussein Obama.

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