The U.S. Senate recently passed an energy policy bill that doubles the amount of corn-based ethanol in American gasoline. But, Cornell University professor of ecology David Pimentel claims drivers who fill their tanks with gasohol - a blend of gasoline and corn-based ethanol - are getting a product that is inefficient and environmentally harmful.
According to Pimentel, gasohol delivers poorer mileage per gallon than gasoline. And some $1.4 billion in subsidies that help make ethanol production profitable for agribusiness firms comes out of taxpayers' pockets. Finally, the National Center for Policy Analysis figures ethanol production adds more than $1 billion to the cost of raising beef. This, says Pimentel, is because corn feedstock for ethanol cuts into the overall corn supply, adding about two cents per bushel to the price corn farmers receive. "Because nearly 70% of corn grain is fed to U.S. livestock, doubling or tripling ethanol production can be expected to further increase corn prices for beef and livestock producers and ultimately increase costs for consumers," says Pimentel.
Corn farming takes a considerable toll on the environment, causing more soil erosion and requiring more insecticides, herbicides, and nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop. And, says Pimentel, every gallon of ethanol produced results in 13 gallons of effluent pollution. "Most of us wouldn't mind paying a premium for a homegrown fuel that's truly efficient, environmentally friendly, and renewable. But corn is none of those," says Pimentel. Making a gallon of ethanol from corn requires 29% more energy from fossil fuels than a gallon of ethanol can provide.