Unfortunately, many governments - the U.S. government in particular - have emerged as the driving force behind one of the most environmentally and culturally destructive policies ever promulgated in the name of environmental and cultural sensitivity - the addition of ethanol to motor fuels in the name of environmentalism. While ethanol's addition to gasoline is touted as an environmental boon and a savings of fossil fuels, the truth is that it is environmentally unsound, economically unwise, and little more than a direct subsidy to major corporate agricultural interests.
As the Cato Institute's energy expert Jerry Taylor said on a recent "Myths" edition of "20/20," the case for ethanol is based on a baker's dozen of myths:
n "If ethanol's so good, why does it need government subsidies? Shouldn't producers be eager to make it, knowing that thrilled consumers will reward them with profits? But consumers won't reward them, because without subsidies, ethanol would cost much more than gasoline."
n Using ethanol will save energy is another myth. "It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make the fertilizer, to run the tractor, to build the silo, to get that corn to a processing plant, to run the processing plant," Taylor says, "and because ethanol degrades, it can't be moved in pipelines the way that gasoline is. So many more big, polluting trucks will be needed to haul it. More bad news: The increased push for ethanol has already led to a sharp increase in corn growing - which means much more land must be plowed. That means much more fertilizer, more water used on farms (500,000 gallons per year per acre of corn) and more pesticides."
To put this in terms we Americans are familiar with, it takes about 25,000 kilocalories together with 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol with an energy equivalent of 19,400 kilocalories - or a negative energy return of 29 percent. Simply put, it takes roughly 30 percent more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than we actually get out of it in our cars. Further, corn causes more soil erosion than any other crop grown in this nation, approximately 4 to 6 tons of soil per acre.
And the cultural costs? The two major sources of ethanol are corn and sugar. The cost of these two food staples have been driven beyond the reach of countless millions worldwide who were already teetering on the brink of malnutrition. This is the direct result of the billions of dollars currently used to subsidize the production of ethanol. Sadly, of the approximately $7 per bushel tax subsidy being handed out to companies like Archer, Daniels & Midland, less than 2 cents is reaching the farmer.
Well then, is ethanol good for anything other than making booze? Yes! It seems to be the 'Manna' for vote-hungry presidential hopefuls. Iowa is a key state in the presidential nomination sweepstakes. Sen. Clinton voted against ethanol 17 times until she started running for president. Coincidence?
"It's no mystery that people who want to be president support the corn ethanol program," Taylor says. "If you're not willing to sacrifice children to the corn God, you will not get out of the Iowa primary with more than 1 percent of the vote. Right now, the closest thing we have to a state religion in the United States isn't Christianity, it's corn."
Paul Epley is a long-time Routt County Conservative activist, holds a PhD in biology from the University of Southern California, and is a director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado.