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Corn field: food for people or fuel for cars?H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (aka Waxman-Markley), aims "to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy."  One goal of the legislation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

It is "the most ambitious energy and global warming legislation ever debated in Congress."  The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun marking up the bill, and it is headed to the full House of Representative some time this month.  H.R. 2454 is expected to be weakened significantly through the process.  One would expect Republicans and lobbyists to water down the bill, but farm state Democrats are also vying for home state protection for ethanol.

Ethanol is big political business in farm countryEthanol is an alternative biofuel that can be made from corn, sugar cane, or switchgrass. In fact, Henry Ford's first mass-produced automobile was designed to run off of 100% ethanol, so the fuel has a long history in the car industry. When added to gasoline, ethanol reduces ozone formation by lowering volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbon emissions.  This all sounds good, but there is controversy surrounding corn-based ethanol. Michael Grunwald of Time reports that one person could be fed for a year "on the corn needed to fill an ethanol-fueled SUV". Some research demonstrates that the production of corn ethanol consumes more energy than it yields, and there is concern that corn-based ethanol is raising the price of food, although the USDA denies the increase is significant.  Other concerns surrounding ethanol include antibiotic overusage in its production and its heavy water footprint.

As expected, most debate over the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009 falls across party lines, except when it comes to ethanol. Farm state Democrats are demanding the legislation include ethanol safeguards.  According to Reuters:

Democrats from farm states are threatening to withhold support unless they win safeguards for ethanol and other biofuels from proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The climate bill could give them leverage: assuming most House Republicans oppose the bill, many in this group of moderate Democrats must be on board in order to pass the measure.

Large farm groups are opposing Waxman-Markey, not just because of the impact on ethanol.  Representative Lucas (R-OK) explains:

From higher energy costs to lost jobs to higher food prices, cap-and-trade promises to cap our incomes, our livelihoods, and our standard of living, while it trades away American jobs and opportunities. For this reason, as this bill stands now, I cannot embrace it.  I am not alone. So far, 34 agriculture groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmers and Ranchers, National Corn Growers Association, National Chicken Council, and National Turkey Federation have sent letters to members of Congress encouraging them to oppose the Waxman-Markey bill. Meanwhile, no large farm groups have endorsed it.

Many farm state Democrats agree, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently traveled to the midwest to gain support for the climate bill.

Why should ethanol be exempt from EPA regulations under Waxman-Markey?  Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture contribute greatly to the effects of climate change.  From farting cows to growing crops that emit nitrous oxide, agriculture is globally a major source of greenhouse gases.  Feeding the world is just as important as providing biofuels. It seems unfair to exempt ethanol while expecting food producing farmers to abide by the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009.

Image:  Kables on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

See original news item: Red, Green, and Blue, May-8-2009  
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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-10-2009)   Web site
Well, how many failures in the ethanol and nuclear industries before we realize that the naturally healthy wind and solar panel industries should get MORE support for their proven, economical, and clean models of energy production.

Obama and his team have dumped fuel cell support. Isn't it time for a "bold" declaration that nuclear and ethanol are also out of the mix? And yes, it is understood that fuel cells are only an energy packaging method, not a production method -- the point is to back technologies that can really work.

  
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