Farm Industry News Blog

Blame it on Ethanol Argument Doesn’t Wash

The San Francisco Chronicle recently published a story suggesting that ethanol production could be “every bit as harmful to the Gulf” as the BP oil spill, suggesting that nitrogen fertilizer used on corn leaches from fields into the Mississippi River and then out to the Gulf of Mexico. According to the article, this fertilizer feeds algae and when the algae dies, it decays, depleting oxygen, which then kills marine life.

When oxygen depletion exceeds oxygen production, hypoxia results. It is a serious problem, no argument. But, the Chronicle article doesn’t point to any other possible causes, including industrial or urban runoff. Seems like we’re back to 2008—blame ethanol for everything.

Ethanol production “every bit as harmful to the Gulf?” I cannot recall seeing 70-plus days of nightly news coverage showing that ethanol has cost Gulf fishermen, retailers and others their livelihoods. Nor have I seen how much wildlife has suffered as a result of hypoxia versus the result of an ever-widening oil spill.

Should the article’s readers be skeptical about ethanol's role in this particular case, the author also has to thrown in the subsidy card to demonize ethanol. Yes, corn (and ethanol) has been subsidized. But, does the article mention how much the oil industry has been subsidized—and for how long it has received money since the industry has existed? Nope.

Interestingly, just a few days before the Chronicle article, the New York Times reported that the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, “with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.” That same article cited a study by the Congressional Budget Office that the oil industry’s capital investments are taxed at about nine percent compared to the overall rate of 25 percent for most businesses.

Tired of the blame everything bad on ethanol argument? I am.

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The Farm Industry News Blog features commentary from Willie Vogt, Jodie Wehrspann, Kathy Huting, Lynn Grooms, Daryl Bridenbaugh and Jeff Ryan.

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