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The rest of the story is not told

By David Anderson, Lonsdale, MN

A recent commentary to the Echo Press by Tom Haag, president of MN Corn Growers, talks about so-called benefits of renewable fuel standards but ignores other costs associated with them.

Haag talks about 400,000 jobs, a reduction in oil and reduced greenhouse gases. While we all support farmers and their commitment to corn production, sometimes we don’t tell the whole truth when we pat each other on the back.

While there is no question we are producing more ethanol than ever before, what is the price we are paying for diverting production of food to fuels? Higher production and crop inputs, higher food costs at the store, and forcing marginal land into production that otherwise might not be used for crop production to begin with.

While Haag talks about the increased cost of a barrel of oil or the cost of gasoline he forgets to include corn. Since the fuel mandate took effect in 2005, the price of corn has risen 300 percent.

Much of the mandate is met with corn ethanol. Since corn is a staple ingredient for many foods and an important feedstock for animals, many in the food industry, including cattle and chicken farmers and restaurant associations, have expressed concern regarding the mandate’s effect on food prices. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study commissioned by the National Council of Chain Restaurants concluded that by the time the standard is phased in fully in two years, it will hike chain restaurants’ costs by as much as $3.2 billion annually.

And while MN Corn Growers makes the claim that greenhouse gases have been reduced, it is silly to assume this is the result only of using renewables. A National Academy of Sciences study (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13105) and Environmental Protection Agency data suggests that corn-grain ethanol, which has so far made up the bulk of renewable fuels under the mandate, almost always produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. A pioneer in fuel cycle studies, Mark A. Delucchi of the University of California, Davis, Institute for Transportation Studies, now questions the accuracy of any of the greenhouse gas analyses used to promote biofuels: Impacts of biofuels on climate change, water use, and land use (Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. ISSN 0077-8929)

Burning ethanol also releases essentially the same amount of CO2 as burning gasoline. CO2 is released when ethanol is fermented from corn starches: C6H12O6 + Enzyme = 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2. The amount of CO2 by molecular weight is roughly equal to the amount of ethanol by molecular weight. Then, when you burn that ethanol (C2H5OH) in conjunction with oxygen, it produces about twice its weight in CO2, slightly less than gasoline, depending on other atmospheric conditions: C2H5OH + 3 O2 = 2 CO2 +3H20. The U.S. Department of Energy published a report on full-cycle CO2 that suggests that even with full-cycle absorption by the relevant plants; corn-based ethanol CO2 output was less than 5 percent different than from gasoline; http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/alternate/page/environment/exec2.html.

So, while Minnesota Corn Growers tell you their version of renewable mandates (the one that benefits them), they omit the information of how it impacts other farmers, business owners and taxpayers, or as Paul Harvey would say… “the rest of the story.”

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