If you are interested in ethanol's impact on the environment, you might want to get a copy of the latest Science magazine. I haven't seen it yet. Our local library doesn't seem to get copies until about a week after it's published. But the Wall Street Journal apparently has already received its copy. Here is part of what they said about some research just published there about the environmental consequences of increased biofuel consumption.
....ecologists at Princeton and the Woods Hole Research Center.......break new ground by exposing a kind of mega-accounting error: Prior studies had never credited the carbon-dioxide emissions that arise when virgin forests, grasslands and the like are cleared to grow biofuel feedstocks. About 2.7 times more carbon is stored in terrestrial soils and plant material than in the atmosphere, and this carbon is released when these areas are cleared (often by burning) and the soil is tilled. Compounding problems is the loss of "carbon sinks" that absorb atmospheric CO2 in the bargain. Previous projections had also ignored the second-order effects of transferring normal farm land to biofuels, which exerts world-wide pressure on land use.
So, incredibly, when the hidden costs of conversion are included, greenhouse-gas emissions from corn ethanol over the next 30 years will be twice as high as from regular gasoline. In the long term, it will take 167 years before the reduction in carbon emissions from using ethanol "pays back" the carbon released by land-use change. As they say, it's not easy being green.
The second study comes out of the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy and explores what the authors call the "carbon debt" when native ecosystems are converted to biofuel stock. Until the debt is repaid, biofuels from those fields will be greater net emitters than the fossil fuels they replace. The authors find that the debt for corn ethanol in the U.S. is between 48 and 93 years. In Indonesia and Malaysia, which have a 1.5% annual rate of deforestation to produce palm oil for Western European biodiesel, the debt is as high as 423 years. Yep, that's four centuries. Even Fidel Castro won't last that long.........................
The WSJ piece goes on to suggest these findings will be ignored by legislators bent on enacting ethanol legislation perceived to be 'green.' I suspect they are right.