Schadenfreude and a they told you so moment – AP Investigation: Corn-Based Ethanol Causes Environment Damage

From the department of “told you so” comes this about-face on what was supposed to be an environmental solution. It seems the cure is worse than the disease:

corn as food not fuel“CORYDON, Iowa — The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.”

“Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. And when President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, Bush predicted it would make the country “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But the 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.”

Dina Cappiello and Matt Apuzzo report for the Associated Press November 12, 2013.

h/t to reader Michael J. Bentley

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Here’s the surprising headline and money quote:

dirty_ethanol

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.

The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.

“They’re raping the land,” said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County, which now bears little resemblance to the rolling cow pastures shown in postcards sold at a Corydon pharmacy.

UPDATE: here is the video report from AP (h/t _Jim)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX2f4JnfS74

In related news:

EPA orders cut in ethanol in gasoline next year, citing risk of engine damage

November 15

By Sean Cockerham

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration Friday proposed the first-ever reduction in the amount of ethanol in the gasoline supply, signaling retreat from the Renewable Fuel Standard passed by Congress in 2007.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels blended into gasoline and diesel next year, down from 16.55 billion gallons this year. Most of it is corn-based ethanol.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/15/4624584/epa-orders-cut-in-ethanol-in-gasoline.html#storylink=cpy

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Did this get buried in the NYT, the ‘paper of record’?
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Not only a is ethanol a poor ecological choice, it’s an even worse economic choice.

Ethanol increases emissions, fuel costs, engine damage, & food prices
http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2013/07/ethanol-increases-emissions-fuel-costs.html
Ethanol mandate is raising food prices and hurting the poor
http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2012/08/ethanol-mandate-is-raising-food-prices.html
Why the US burns 40% of its corn, despite a global food shortage
http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2012/10/why-us-burns-40-of-its-corn-despite.html
Why do we burn our food?
http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-do-we-burn-our-food.html
New paper finds misguided biofuel policies provide no benefit to the climate
http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2013/09/new-paper-finds-misguided-biofuel.html

OssQss

This post reminded me of this article from a few years ago. I wonder if it is accurate in today’s terms?
http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17166.cfm

Jquip

Always new corn was a heavy feeder. But I hadn’t considered that the green push could or would head us back to the dustbowl.

Taphonomic

Another bill that Congress must have passed before they read it. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again!

justsomeguy31167

Ethanol is a poorer choice than ten years ago, but that is because we are now producing our own energy. Further, more ethanol is now sugar cane based than ever before – import is allowed.
This is a big oil piece…

Tim Walker

It was always politics pure and simple.

Didn’t see if a direct link to the AP was made above or not so …
“THE SECRET, DIRTY COST OF OBAMA’S GREEN POWER PUSH”
http://bigstory.ap.org/article/secret-dirty-cost-obamas-green-power-push-0
A series of photos accompanying the story can be found at the above link.
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more soylent green!

The USA put so much into ethanol production because of the Ag lobby, the farm vote and especially because of the damn Iowa presidential caucuses which are given inordinate power in selecting presidential nominees.

more soylent green! says November 16, 2013 at 9:05 am
The USA put so much into ethanol production because of the Ag lobby, the farm vote ..

It would be cheaper in the long run to just buy off (make cash payments directly to!) those ppl … I think I’ll just abandon my old motorized ‘clunker’ autos, boat motors, lawnmowers, generators and weedeaters along the highways in Iowa, JUST before the next caucasus …
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John F. Hultquist

The folks from Google with the time slider on Google Earth have provided a visual history of this issue. Go to these coordinates:
40.733462, -93.269654
Corydon is 3 miles to the NW. Click on the clock icon on the bar above the image and open the “Show historical imagery” application. The slider can take you back a few years. Another field is here:
40.659686, -93.217520
These places appear to have been in a conservation easement program when looked at on images just a few years ago.

Interesting comment in http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/Nov/12/tp-report-slams-ethanol-policy/5/?#article-copy . After talking about how a huge amount of conservation land was turned into corn field:

Scientists predicted that a major ethanol push would raise prices and, in turn, encourage farmers like Leroy Perkins to plow into conservation land. But the government insisted otherwise.
In 2008, the journal Science published a study with a dire conclusion: Plowing over conservation land releases so much greenhouse gas that it takes 48 years before new plants can break even and start reducing carbon dioxide.

The Department of Energy was more certain. Most conservation land, the government said in its response to the study, “is unsuitable for use for annual row crop production.”
America could meet its ethanol demand without losing a single acre of conservation land, Energy officials said.
They would soon be proven wrong.

Losing conservation land was bad. But something even worse was happening.
Farmers broke ground on virgin land, the untouched terrain that represents, from an environmental standpoint, the country’s most important asset.

Ah, it’s on a single web page at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/secret-dirty-cost-obamas-green-power-push-1 See also http://bigstory.ap.org/topic/ethanol

IIRC, it was expected in that 2007 law that ‘switchgrass’ etc. would be used for producing “Cellulosic ethanol” … but that has never materialized.
1) Biofuel makers seek to ease mandates to avert congress
Posted on July 25, 2013 at 8:08 am by Bloomberg in Biofuels
Fair use excerpt:

Makers of some renewable fuels are asking the federal government to ease quotas for use of their products in a bid to head off a congressional overhaul of a program that refiners say is driving up costs at the pump.
With production of fuels made from sources such as wood waste, algae or used cooking oils at a fraction of what was envisioned in a 2007 law, the Environmental Protection Agency needs to adjust requirements for use of biofuels in coming years, according to the Advanced Biofuels Association. The statute allows the EPA to adjust the requirements, and prompt EPA action would quell refiners’ fears that there won’t be enough renewable fuel to meet the mandate, they say.
“It’s highly likely they will be lower than what’s in the statute,” Michael McAdams, the president of the group representing 46 companies, said of the quotas. While changes aren’t needed this year, EPA should set out the likely quotas for 2014 and 2015 “in one move, so everybody sees what the glide path is.”

2) Cellulosic ethanol, once the way of the future, is off to a delayed, boisterous start
Fair use excerpt:

The heart of the dispute is the Energy Independence and Security Act passed by Congress in 2007 with rare bipartisan support. The law provided a road map for increasing the use of renewable agricultural byproducts in the U.S. motor fuel supply. The Poet plant is just what Congress envisioned, a Middle America biofuel displacing Middle East crude — with some possible climate benefits to boot.
Corn-based ethanol, which makes up nearly 10 percent of U.S. motor fuel, has been in large-scale production for years. But Congress was worried about driving up the price of corn used as feed for livestock and poultry. So lawmakers capped the total production of corn-based ethanol and set a schedule for ramping up the use of “advanced” biofuels made from corn husks, switch grass, wood chips and other stuff known as “cellulosic” material to 16 billion gallons by 2022.
There’s one problem, though: So far, no company has produced cellulosic ethanol at commercial volumes.

.

Mborch

Anybody that knows anything about agriculture and growing corn knows that article was a very biased one-sided hit piece about ethanol. I am a professional farm manager in Iowa and can assure you that the fast majority of farmers in Iowa are using conservation tillage and other practices to protect the soil on their farms. Farmers aren’t stupid. They don’t want to destroy their factories (land). In any industry you can always find a few examples of abuses and how to do things the wrong way. The people of Corydon are very upset that they were misled and taken out of context by the reporter who wrote this story. Using this article as a way to support negative theories about ethanol is just as inappropriate as the other side using biased temperature data and poor modeling to support their theory of man-made global warming.

CRS, DrPH

Don’t blame just farmers….

At least 43% of ADM’s profits come from products subsidized by the taxpayers. Most of ADM’s fortunes come from ethanol, produced through the distillation of corn into grain alcohol.
Most expensive is Washington’s 54 cent-per-gallon tax break for gasohol. This special-interest loophole accounts for the bulk of the more than $10 billion in subsidies to ADM since 1980. All told, analyst James Bovard estimates that every dollar in profits earned by ADM costs taxpayers $30.

http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/ethanol-keeps-adm-drunk-tax-dollars

R. de Haan

I have searched, studied and evaluated one green scam after another and I haven’t found a single one that provides any benefits to the planet, the biosphere, wild life or people in general.
We have to stop the madness ASAP.

Mike Maguire

When tens of millions of acres of the most fertile ground in the world goes to growing corn for ethanol rather than food(40% of the total corn crop) it means less acres for all the other crops.
In order to attract the needed acres to generate ample supplies, prices of other crops must go higher. Farmer will plant the crop that makes them the most profit.
Stating that burning ethanol results in less CO2 pollution, has always been the lie about the lie.
1. CO2 is a beneficial gas. Increasing it, increases crop yields/world food production
2. Corn is the biggest polluting crop and uses the most natural resources…….by far
I could add many more points and elaborate but I’ll let Captain Ike Keifer do that, as he destroys every conceivable false notion about bio fuels propagandized/forced on us the last decade.
http://www.au.af.mil/au/ssq/digital/pdf/spring_13/Kiefer_Long_Version.pdf

Bloke down the pub

Does anyone know of any scheme devised to prevent global warming, that has not had unintended consequences that were worse than the problem it was trying to prevent? So far I’ve come up with zilch.

Steve Keohane

I was surprised to see this in the local papers, and pointed it out in Tips & Notes on the 12th.
Steve Keohane says:November 12, 2013 at 5:40 am
Wow! AP article today, ” The Secret, Dirty Cost of the Green-Power Push”. On how ethanol has destroyed a lot of land.
http://www.postbulletin.com/business/the-secret-dirty-cost-of-the-green-power-push/article_02530f8c-4b98-11e3-b72d-0019bb30f31a.html
“Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.“

Mike Smith

The whole corn/ethanol fiasco was never about the environment.
The green claims were only ever cover for a giant pay-off to the corporate farming industry. It was just a scam put together between powerful and corrupt lobbyists and powerful and corrupt politicians. The taxpayers were screwed and the environment was screwed as a few good old boys shoveled money into their pockets at rates most of us could never imagine.
Maybe the gig is up and maybe it isn’t. Either way the perps will get to keep that mountain of dosh. It’s gone for ever.

The accompanying AP video:

mkelly

When has burning food ever been a good idea?

“CORYDON, Iowa — The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.” “Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.
So the suggestion here is that corn fields in Iowa are an environmental disaster? That farmers in Iowa do not know how to plow and manage fields? And please, families have been burying people in the middle of forty and eighty acre plots in this country for hundreds of years. This is garbage. The reason it was a bad idea is not because farming is environmentally harmful. The reason it is a bad idea is because this takes food, available land, and water and puts it into the gas tank. The world wide effects on the grain prices have caused people to go from poverty to extreme poverty.
Farming is not environmentally harmful. There is nothing wrong with nitrous oxide from crops, carbon dioxide from energy generation and transportation, nothing wrong with the dust from building a fire in winter, and nothing wrong with methane from cows. These unscrupulous scientists will stoop to any low level to frighten people.

justsomeguy31167

Quote:
“Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.“
Problem:
The CRP or Conservation Reserve Program was essentially a program where the governments pays farmers not to grow crops on their land. A bit disingenuous for this free market group to support that generally, or scream when farmers can make more actually growing crops and they do so. The CRP was never intended to keep this land out of production in perpetuity.
http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=crp

outdoorrink

Arghhh I give up. I’m going to burn wood to stay warm.
Why burn coal or gas or oil to stay warm when we can go back in time to that ideal world where people that live in places other than tropical settings simply killed naturally oily sea beasts or cut down forests as fuel to fight off certain death from exposure to the cold?
And seeing as I live on the prairies, there aren’t any whales around to unaaq, so I guess I’m left with trees.

Mborch

The article quoting the 54 cent per gallon tax break for gasohol was written in 2007. As of January 1, 2012 that tax break no longer exists.
REPLY: No the article was not written in 2007, the law was – Anthony

Mike Smith

Bloke down the pub says:
Does anyone know of any scheme devised to prevent global warming, that has not had unintended consequences that were worse than the problem it was trying to prevent?
Good question? Maybe some of the energy conservation programs (although I wouldn’t include CFL’s in that category). But things like insulation and more efficient furnaces and air conditioners have probably been net positive. Increasing use of LED lighting will I think end well too.

Speed

Another victory for central planning.

Peter Miller

Whenever you have a mix of:
1. Any type of -ism, in this case climate alarmism,
2. The possibility of becoming wealthy or powerful by exploiting the -ism.
3. Career politicians who want to be seen to be supporting trendy policies, especially if it is an -ism.
4. The ardent support of dodgy activist groups, then:
As said earlier, the Law of Unintended Consequences can be relied on to apply. In this case, engine rust, erosion, higher basic food prices, fertiliser pollution and loss of bio-diversity.
Perhaps, most important of all, the fracking boom in the USA has made the use of ethanol as a fuel totally, completely and utterly unnecessary.

Mike Bromley the Kurd

Yep. Josh Fox, what say you? Hmmmm? Hello? Fracking? Pollution? What? Nothing? Cat got your tongue? Say it ain’t so! What? Facts? Irrelevant? Awww, c’mon! Give us a documentary! “Cornland”!

Zeke says November 16, 2013 at 9:56 am

So the suggestion here is that corn fields in Iowa are an environmental disaster? That farmers in Iowa do not know how to plow and manage fields? …

Maybe Zeke missed the part about ‘rolling hills’ and all (FORMERLY grass/pasture lands); Zeke, view the AP video above and note the erosion as viewed from an overhead (taken from an aircraft) perspective.
.

Mike Smith says:
November 16, 2013 at 10:01 am
Bloke down the pub says:
Does anyone know of any scheme devised to prevent global warming, that has not had unintended consequences that were worse than the problem it was trying to prevent?
Good question? Maybe some of the energy conservation programs (although I wouldn’t include CFL’s in that category). But things like insulation and more efficient furnaces and air conditioners have probably been net positive. Increasing use of LED lighting will I think end well too.
=====================================================================
Maybe the question by Bloke was semi rhetorical as we should revisit the idea that we can be in any significant way, able to prevent global warming/climate change etc.

Merovign

It doesn’t matter how many times heavy-handed centrally-planned “solutions” fail, it will always be the go-to solution because it was never about the environment, it was always about power and control.
To you, this failed. To a bureaucrat, it represents status, power, and money for their department – both the failure and the “fix” which will also fail. To the politician it represents attention and votes – maybe different politicians at different stages, but that just means more in the long run.
I don’t really have the answer, but boy is the problem lit up like day!

milodonharlani

A friend of mine who took advantage of the program knew it cost more energy to produce the ethanol from his corn than was gotten out as ethanol, but did it anyway. He fed the cake left over to his cattle, so made a tidy sum off the tax-payers, especially with higher price of corn sold for food or feed thrown in. He died of MRSA infection a few years ago, but his kids have carried on.

Whatever happened to the switchgrass idea? As I recall it was a native to the prairie, grew deep roots and came back year after year, and stopped erosion. It could be made into pellets for pellet stoves, giving off 90% as much heat as wood. Best of all, it would grow on waste land that was unsuitable for growing food.
Maybe switchgrass is not financially feasible in terms of brewing up wood-alcohol, but it seemed to make sense in terms of home heating. Pellet stoves are fairly popular in New England.

re:Caleb says November 16, 2013 at 10:39 am
Whatever happened to the switchgrass idea? …
Did you scan the comments – or just pop to the bottom and post? (Really, I’m curious …)
IATYQ: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/16/schadenfreude-and-a-they-told-you-so-moment-ap-investigation-corn-based-ethanol-causes-environment-damage/#comment-1476992

Bruce Cobb

I don’t want to shock them or anything, but no “green” policy is actually good for the environment. It’s only good for lining the pockets of those in the “green” industry, at everyone else’s expense, including taxpayers.

Mike Smith

Matthew W says:
Maybe the question by Bloke was semi rhetorical as we should revisit the idea that we can be in any significant way, able to prevent global warming/climate change etc.
Sure we can. Not only that, we’ve actually accomplished it. No warming for 20 years 🙂

DirkH

The ethanol program has been invented and promoted by GLOBE international, the international organisation that has representatives in all bloc parties of the West (trilateral commission territory, US + EU + Japan). Its purposes are, a) dampen oil price shocks b) keep the farmer voting bloc happy c) find a use for the calories we can produce.
Up to the 70ies, the caloric production of agriculture in the EU rose to 6000 kcal/capita/day. Then the growth stopped – because we had no use for more calories. The ethanol program changes that; now we can produce to the max and have a use for it.
The produced fuel – ethanol and biodiesel – is surely not enough to run Europe in case of an oil embargo; but enough to run an army. Shouldn’t say that now, or should I. Doesn’t matter, the NSA makes sure you know anyway.
Oh, I didn’t mention CO2. That’s because that’s got nothing at all to do with the bioethanol program.

http://www.globeinternational.org/index.php/news/item/globe-natural-capital-legislation-study-launched-at-summit-in-the-german-bundestag

Robert A. Taylor

At the end of the video an email from a USDA official is shown saying “. . . We just want to have a consistent message on the topic. . . .”, thus censoring an AP source. So, facts do not matter, only giving a “consistent message”.

J Martin

Nothing is free.

milodonharlani

DirkH says:
November 16, 2013 at 11:05 am
I don’t know how the energy in-out equation works with respect to coal v. corn, but ethanol from coal would be a good option for Germany, if alcohol for military use be the goal. Methanol is better than ethanol, BTW, & was used by Germany in WWII up to 20% concentration with no need to adapt gasoline engines.

DirkH says November 16, 2013 at 11:05 am
The ethanol program has been invented and promoted by GLOBE international, …

In your country, perhaps?
1) From: http://www.epa.gov/mtbe/gas.htm
MTBE in Fuels
2013 status update
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act that removed the oxygenate requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG). At the same time, Congress also instituted a renewable fuel standard. In response, refiners made a wholesale switch removing MTBE and blending fuel with ethanol.
2) From: http://www.ogj.com
MTBE vs. ethanol: sorting through the oxygenate issues
MTBE and ethanol are by far the most widely used oxygenates. Together, they currently make up just under 5% of the gasoline barrel, with MTBE volumes nearly three times those of ethanol.
3) From: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/special/pdf/mtbe.pdf
MTBE, Oxygenates, and Motor Gasoline
What are oxygenates?
Oxygenates are hydrocarbons that contain one or more oxygen atoms. The primary oxygenates
are alcohols and ethers, including: fuel ethanol, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), ethyl tertiary
butyl ether (ETBE), and tertiary amyl methyl ether (TAME).
.

Daryl M

It’s about time the media woke up about this scam. None of these criticisms of the ethanol mandate are new and there is a long list of other bad things about ethanol as a fuel. It’s bad for the environment in many ways. It’s bad to use food for fuel. It drives up the prices and has a particularly negative impact on poor countries which rely in corn. It’s also generally a poor fuel. It has a lower energy content than gasoline and burns at a lower air-fuel ratio so more of it is needed. Ethanol is corrosive and can damage many components in engines and fuel systems of vehicles that were not specifically designed for it. Ironically, the only thing ethanol can be good for is as a racing fuel, due to its relatively high octane. However even that has to take into consideration the fact that “e85” can be anywhere from e50 to e85 and so there is no way to know the true octane rating. The exhaust from ethanol fuel has toxic compounds. The ethanol scam was fully taken advantage of by vehicle manufacturers. Any vehicle offered that can use e85 allows the manufacturer to only claim the 15% amount of gasoline in the CAFE ratings that they submit to the government. Finally, it makes no economic sense to mandate ethanol. It costs more to produce than it’s worth and it takes more energy to produce than it contains. Getting rid of the ethanol mandate is a good thing, but it will be interesting to see what replaces it. None of the previous gasoline oxygenators were good for anything except to make money for the producers who successfully lobbied for their adoption. You can be sure that the lobbyists are already salivating for the next opportunity. No doubt, whatever replaces ethanol will be a cash cow for someone irrespective of whether it works as a fuel additive.

One of the first acts of this administration was the Omnibus Public Lands Act, which increased federal holdings of state land by millions of acres. Coincidentally, many of these lands held rich resources and tourist destinations. So I am not crying over any land seized by the Feds being cultivated for grains.
Furthermore, the list of Obama’s political supporters who subsequently “took up farming” and became eligible for subsidies, etc. includes Larry Flint, Sam Donaldson, Ted Turner, and Ben Bradlee. Former basketball star Scottie Pippen was paid $130,000 over five years not to grow crops.
Now the farmers in Iowa, who have been perfectly capable of caring for their own land and using pesticides and water responsibly are suddenly causing an environmental disaster? I am not signing for that. Remember who these anti-agricultural activists are: they are UN activists, who are demanding an end to agronomy as now practiced. Not only that, the US EPA has outrageously labeled nitrous oxide from crops a harmful ghg.
ref: http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/n2o.html

tom s

But what about all of the global warming this has prevented? I bet it’s about 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000022C!

tom s

How much ‘conservation’ land has been taken for Wind and Solar?

Zeke says November 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

Now the farmers in Iowa, who have been perfectly capable of caring for their own land and …

Zeke dodges the question concerning turning rolling grasslands/prairie into cultivated row crops?
So noted.
Say, Zeke, what happens under the conditions of a heavy rain falling on row crops (with bare soil) planted on a hillside versus that same heavy rain on a ‘grassland’ or prairie? Any idea?
.

Oldseadog

I have been involved in a (successful) campaign to allow boaters on Scottish canals to use bio-free diesel.
According to the report above, I am now due a payment from “big oil” but it hasn’t arrived yet.