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The Planet Wrecking Greens

The Associated Press just published a damning investigation of one of President Obama’s biggest “green” policies: corn ethanol. Green is in quotation marks there because, despite being touted as such, corn ethanol fails to reduce emissions—its big selling point—and America’s ever-increasing quotas for the biofuel have incentivized the destruction of five million acres of land tagged for conservation. The AP reports:

[T]he ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

In their rush to fulfill rising government quotas for corn ethanol, farmers weren’t just planting new fields in conserved land, they were also reallocating what they did with existing corn crops. Before the ethanol mandate, just 23 percent of America’s corn crops went towards producing ethanol. Last year, 43 percent of our crops went towards the biofuel. The result: a constricted global food supply, which has lead to higher food prices abroad. Those higher prices are starving the world’s poor, and may even be inciting riots.

Worst of all, the biofuel isn’t reducing US emissions, and may even be increasing them. That’s because, as the AP puts it, “[c]orn demands fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. What’s worse, ethanol factories typically burn coal or gas, both of which release carbon dioxide.” And tilling new land emits even more greenhouse gases.

To be fair, President Obama inherited this ethanol policy—it was signed in to law by President Bush in December of 2007. But Obama championed the policy on the campaign trail, and has overseen the program’s steady rise in required ethanol from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 16.55 gallons this year. This fiasco has happened on his watch.

If you’ve got the time, you should read the whole thing. It’s a well-researched indictment of what we’ve come to call America’s biofuel boondoggle. President Obama, like Chancellor Merkel or the myriad other policymakers lured by the siren song of nascent renewable technologies, has seen his green policy promises blow up in his face. Bills to repeal and reform this mess are slowly working their way their Congress. The sooner, the better.

[Withered corn crop image courtesy of Shutterstock]

[Post updated to explain that the law mandating increasing volumes of biofuels was signed by President Bush.]

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  • gabrielsyme

    The best element of Gordon Brown’s brief premiership was his vocal skepticism of the biofuels madness, both for environmental and for humanitarian reasons. I cannot think of another significant world leader who has lifted a finger to challenge this deadly policy (literally- higher world food prices do increase mortality due to malnutrition).

    • Bruce

      It can also lead to food riots.

      • Kavanna

        Well yeah, riot first, then croak 🙁

    • Kavanna

      I had forgotten about Brown’s lonely opposition to this insanity. I’m not in his camp politically but admire that kind of honesty.

      • gabrielsyme

        Neither am I close to Brown on most issues. But my impression of him was that he was an honest man, genuinely motivated by the common good.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Bills to repeal and reform this mess are slowly working their way their Congress.”

    Maybe. But I grew up in Iowa, and the Iowa caucuses are the first visible step in presidential nomination. I expect the farmers to put up a stiff fight for this boondoggle.

    • Corlyss

      Spot on, Free. Like any bad government policy that gives away money, we’ll likely be in our graves before anything is done to stop the insanity. If the insanity were the result of crappy greens controlling policy, that would be one thing. But this is worse. All the greens on earth could disappear tomorrow (a consummation devoutly to be wished, to quote ol’ Hamlet), and we’d still have this destructive and useless ethanol policy because the farmers in Iowa RULE early presidential primary results.

  • Kavanna

    Much as I like to bash the current Empty-Suit-in-Chief, I was a little peeved reading this, until near the end, the origin of this crazy policy under Bush was mentioned. The first version was actually enacted in 2002, I believe.

    Much as we all like to bash The One here, we must keep in mind that many of these bad trends in the US began a decade or more ago. They’ve just gotten much worse in the last five years.

    • Kavanna

      And … let’s drop the “carbon emission” silliness. Ethanol is bad because it raises the cost of food for everyone, especially the poor, whose budgets are dominated by necessities.

      Conservation land is nice too, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and anti-humanistic. Environmental “values” are human choices, not commandments of nature, which is indifferent to the fate of its creatures.

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