Iowa has been on the leading edge of ethanol production, so it’s no surprise that recent ethanol criticisms have ruffled some feathers here.

A recent Associated Press report claimed that increased ethanol production and higher corn prices have led to existing grasslands being turned into farms -- with fewer acres being enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. It also cites an impact on some food and animal feed prices.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 15 recommended reducing the amount of ethanol required to be added to the gasoline supply. A coalition of oil companies, environmental groups and food companies are pushing the EPA to reconsider the ethanol program.

We believe that would be a mistake. One of the goals of creating the standard was to reduce our reliance on foreign oil -- and it’s been working. In the long run, we believe that is still the No. 1 priority of establishing and maintaining our own fuel supply, through a variety of strategies. Renewable fuels can and should be a large part of our fuel security mix.

Rep. Bruce Braley said the increased use of biofuels is a win-win for Iowa and the rest of the nation.

“We reduce our nation’s dependence on Middle Eastern sources of oil and lower prices at the pumps by creating jobs and economic innovation in the Midwest that boosts our agriculture and economy,” he said.

“One of the things that we have to continually evaluate is what the environmental impact is of all those fuel sources,” Braley continued. “One of the things we know is that the production of biofuels typically requires less in the way of greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. We need to educate consumers about those tradeoffs.”

Sen. Charles Grassley disputes the CRP argument, saying that fewer acres enrolled in the CRP has more to do with federal belt-tightening than land stewardship decisions by America’s corn farmers.

The federally-mandated Renewable Fuel Standard increases the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The criticism comes at a time when the ethanol industry is gaining traction in developing infrastructure and knitting networks together to get its products to market. It’s a momentum we should encourage instead of thwart. We should be tailoring future usage strategies to the increased production, such as working to develop engines that can use increased ethanol blends.

While the recent concerns may have some legitimacy, it’s also important to keep our eyes on the biggest prize.

The road to increased energy independence is not going to be smooth sailing all the time. There will be growing pains. The ultimate goals are still important, and as developing industries evolve, efficiencies are created and oversights are added.

The less dependence we have on Middle East energy, the more secure we are as a nation. Renewable fuels are the future, and we need to continue to adapt to that reality.

(6) comments

frank belcastro

Fully 58% of Iowa’s 2010 corn crop was used to make ethanol. So, it is not just “surplus” corn that is going into ethanol, as is claimed by the ethanol industry. Even the livestock industry does not believe the ethanol industry’s claim that this much corn going for ethanol does not affect prices. That is why the livestock commodity groups for hogs, cattle and poultry are all lobbying against ethanol subsidies in Washington, D.C.

A recent Iowa State University analysis indicated that ethanol subsidies are no longer needed to keep the ethanol industry profitable. It’s time to end the $0.45 per gallon ethanol subsidy, which cost taxpayers nearly $6 billion in 2010. The real cost per gallon of that subsidy is actually much higher: If you account for the fact that ethanol contains just two-thirds the energy of gasoline, and that two-thirds of ethanol’s energy consists of embedded fossil-fuel energy that was required to grow the corn and make the ethanol, the real cost of the $0.45 per gallon ethanol subsidy comes to over $2.00 per gallon of gasoline net energy equivalence. That is $2.00 per gallon that we taxpayers pay for ethanol even before we buy it at the gas pump.

Crops worldwide -- canola, cassava, palm oil, corn, soybeans, sugarcane and others -- are increasingly being used to make biofuels. That might not make a lot of difference in the price you pay for corn flakes, but it does make a big difference to the half of the world’s population that lives on just $2 per day or less. They spend about 80 percent of their income on food, and the worldwide shift from food to biofuel crops causes them hardship, or worse. When the price of corn doubles in the U.S., it causes a ripple effect that increases food grain prices worldwide and pushes more people into starvation.


Sacrificing food for fuel is a bad idea. I'm not surprised, the love of money is more important in the minds of some than the lives of people.

frank belcastro

Our huge investment in ethanol wouldn’t seem so bad if we used that ethanol efficiently. But we are using it in passenger vehicles that average just 20.4 mpg (compared to 45 to 50 mpg in Europe and Japan). It would take only about 1 mpg increase in our passenger vehicle mileage to save the equivalent amount of energy we get from all the ethanol we produce in the U.S.

Aside from the disastrous economic investment the ethanol industry has been, we should consider the environmental problems ethanol brings with it. For example, for every gallon of ethanol made from corn, two gallons of soil are lost to erosion. Clearly, this is not a sustainable system. Corn production in Iowa averages 5.7 tons/acre of soil eroded each year, but the soil naturally regenerates at an average rate of just 0.5 tons/acre per year.

Nutrient loading to water resources from corn production is another problem. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, corn production is a major contributor of nutrients that cause the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which grows to about the size of New Jersey every summer.

It is important that we look critically at the talking points of the biofuels industry, and not let them play us for biofools.

Brian B

Free corn.


The difficult item to understand is how did ethanol and it's use become such an emotional target. Clearly emotional responses such as the above number twisting and manufacturing above seems troubling. Two gallons of soil per gallon? That one is so far out there not even going to touch it. Frank also left out (as most oil propaganda does) of his 58% number of corn used 33% of that comes back to the market as DDGS, a high quality animal feed making the net ending corn balance close to 28%. A number the USDA uses in their crop use reporting. Also the .46 Blenders Credit went to the blenders who supplied the blended fuel for motorists who realized that benefit from every gallon of blended fuel they purchased which generally was .9 -.10 per gallon purchased. This credit expired a couple years ago, Frank also left out from that same ISU study this credit was allowed to expire (which the ethanol industry did not fight) was not necessary as long as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) stayed in place. This was the focus of the editorial.


Interesting how most supporters of ethanol claim that it's a clean burning fuel, not true. Ethanol contains carbon and thus produces CO2 ( a greenhouse gas) when burned. Plus, it has been my experience (along with others) that I get lower mileage with ethanol than regular gasoline.

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