Inside Ethanol's Quiet, Dirty Toll on Environment

Industry fumes over AP report
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2013 7:32 AM CST
Inside Ethanol's Quiet, Dirty Toll on Environment
In this July 26, 2013, photo, Des Moines water works lab technician Bill Blubaugh takes a water sample from the Des Moines River.   (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

President Obama, and President Bush before him, fought hard to make ethanol a central part of American energy. But an AP investigation finds that the program as it stands may be doing far more environmental harm than good. The effort to grow corn for fuel has meant the destruction of more conservation ground than "Yellowstone, Everglades, and Yosemite National Parks combined"—some 5 million acres. Billions of pounds of fertilizer have tainted drinking water, rivers, and wildlife habitats; wetlands and prairies have been ruined; and the farming process releases carbon dioxide once held in the soil.

"This is an ecological disaster," says an environmental advocate. In fact, some environmental groups and big oil companies are fighting on the same side against the ethanol mandate. The Obama administration argues that even if such programs take a toll now, they're an investment in future renewable energy that may be cleaner. But the AP investigation indicates that the White House is taking an unrealistically rosy view of the program—boosting corn yield assumptions, for instance, to make ethanol sound as green as possible. In further ethanol news:

  • The White House may actually be poised to reduce the amount of ethanol required in fuel blends, Politico notes. A draft of an EPA document set for release today suggests a drop to 2012 levels amid clashes between top special-interest groups.
  • The AP is getting some serious flak for its investigation from the ethanol industry, which calls it "rife with errors." "There is probably more truth in this week's National Enquirer than AP's story," says an advocate. But the AP points to government data and peer-reviewed journal articles to back its claims.
  • For a brief overview, the AP offers up a fact sheet.
(More ethanol stories.)

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