Ethanol a sweet lie

Under fire, the corn-based ethanol industry seeks more federal support.

To the chagrin of a struggling ethanol industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has just prolonged its consideration of a policy that would raise the federal maximum ethanol content of gasoline from 10 to 15 percent. But corn-based ethanol, which has garnered lots of attention in recent years as a clean, renewable alternative fuel, has not proven the boon it was cracked up to be. It requires massive amounts of water and petroleum-based fertilizer to grow corn, making corn ethanolâÄôs environmental footprint far heavier than its reputation would have it. American ethanol is also a primary contributor to soaring world food prices, as animal feed and commodity corn have grown costly with demand. Ironically, the federal government heavily subsidizes and incentivizes this increase in the price of food and has even included mandatory ethanol production levels in its recent energy bills. Some states and cities, including Minnesota, require that all gas contain a certain ethanol quotient. Now backed by a powerful lobby in Washington, the corn ethanol industry is fighting its darkening reputation and soaring corn prices. It is unclear at this point whether the much-touted cellulosic ethanol, which can be derived from woody plants, waste products and greenery, will prove any more sustainable when it eventually enters commercial production. Meanwhile, it has become abundantly clear that corn ethanol is not the answer for our cars, our economy or our environment. The EPA should discourage rather than promote corn ethanol and call for state and local governments to do the same.