Long heralded as a green alternative to fossil fuel, corn-based ethanol has become a costly distraction that chiefly benefits corporate, political and lobbying interests rather than the American public, the environment, small farmers and rural communities, according to a new report by Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) and Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.
Titled “Crystal Eth: America’s Crippling Addiction to Taxpayer-financed Ethanol,” the report concludes that corn-based ethanol is unlikely to significantly reduce America’s dependence on imported oil, has a negligible ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to environmental degradation in coastal waters and has been an economic boon for agribusiness giants managed in absentia rather than small and medium-size, locally owned farms, farm cooperatives and ethanol refineries.
The report is available on the IEE website at: http://www.vermontlaw.edu/energy/publications/
The report examines the political contributions and lobbying efforts of some of the largest corporate ethanol refiners to garner ever-larger subsidies, and how the growth of corporate consolidation in the corn-based ethanol sector has been an unintended result of America’s renewable transportation fuel politics, policies and subsidies. The report estimates that ethanol refiners have received at least $22.8 billion in total government financial support between 1999 and 2008.
The report recommends that:
Corn-based ethanol subsidies should be phased out completely over the next few years in favor of subsidies to biofuel alternatives that are more efficient, economically feasible and environmentally friendly, such as cellulosic and algae biofuel refiners.
The renewable fuel standard should be amended to lower the amount of corn-based ethanol qualifying for government quotas.
Renewable fuel standards should be increased for second- and third-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and algae-based biodiesel, which should only receive support if they meet sustainability criteria to qualify for subsidies. These could include a net energy gain for cellulosic or other biodiesel fuels, reduced water utilization, limiting the indirect land use impact on food production and eschewing emerging higher-risk technologies such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
Farmers who produce and consume their own biofuels on the farm should be rewarded by an energy tax credit for each gallon of ethanol, biodiesel or vegetable oil that they use instead of fossil fuels.
Congress has mandated that biofuel use must reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022.