The illusion of a clean and clear future with ethanol

Biofuels are everywhere in Iowa right now, with a massive surge in ethanol production and a widespread belief that ethanol use will solve many or all of our problems. Proponents tout corn ethanol production as Iowa’s solution to everything from a flagging economy to job loss, from outsourcing to climate change. Recently, Iowans bore witness to Governor Culver’s first annual Condition of the State address, wherein our governor declared that the “condition of the state is strong,” citing the growth of the ethanol industry and the jobs it has brought. Culver went on to praise these new “green-collar” jobs that ethanol production provides. However, despite the progress of Culver’s ethanol initiative, The WEB feels that negative influences on the state outweigh the influence of the ethanol industry. Though production has added thousands of new jobs to Iowa, it has not been able to counteract job loss from layoffs and plant closings – the unemployment rate in Iowa has risen from 3.5% last year to 3.9%. Furthermore, though ethanol production is touted as a “green fuel” and a means of fighting climate change, corn ethanol does not actually provide a strong positive effect on the environment. While ethanol blends lower CO2 emissions by roughly 20-30 %, according to a study by the Argonne National Laboratory, corn ethanol also has a lower energy content per gallon than gasoline. This means that your car would need 1.46 gallons of pure corn ethanol for every gallon of pure gasoline it uses. While ethanol releases less Carbon Dioxide per gallon burned, the extra ethanol it takes to drive your car pushes the emissions back up to the level of gasoline. Moreover, ethanol production creates problems of its own. Producing one gallon of ethanol requires four gallons of water. A large-scale ethanol plant would use 100 million gallons of water per year, and the growth of ethanol will make it a serious water consumer in Iowa in the near future. Though production is currently a fairly minor draw from Iowa’s water table, the growth of ethanol will make water consumption an enormous problem in years to come – and our water table is already dropping. Iowa experienced a drought in 2006, and predictions indicate another drought may hit in 2008. Should the expansion of ethanol continue, is water use poses a serious threat to our water supply. Ethanol production is certainly good for Iowa’s economy in the short term, and its use is a promising sign for us in the future – when we run out of oil, we will have a replacement. It also produces fewer toxic emissions, improving our air quality. However, it alone is not enough to solve Iowa’s problems. Ethanol production is not enough to provide jobs for Iowans. It is not enough to prevent climate change. It is not truly helping our environment. While The WEB feels that we have taken one step in the right direction with ethanol, we need to continue moving to truly better the lives of Iowans. In order to provide long-term, high-paying employment, we need more than just ethanol production; we need to stop corporations from moving overseas. To combat climate change, we cannot merely switch to biofuels; we need a cap on industrial greenhouse gas emissions, improved fuel standards for our cars, and significant growth of public transportation. Ethanol brings some benefits for the immediate future of Iowa, but it is not a long-term solution.