Ethanol helps stabilize energy prices

March 15, 2011

The Sun may have cut back its foreign bureaus, but your editorial writers ("End subsidies for corn-based ethanol," March 14) must still be aware of the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East which has been sending oil prices soaring over $103 a barrel, pushing gasoline prices to $4 or even $5 in some states and pointing up the need for the only clean-burning, domestically produced alternative to imported oil: ethanol.

If the U.S. provides a $4 billion subsidy for blending ethanol into gasoline, as your editorial contends, it's still a better buy than importing 65 percent of our oil, mostly from unfriendly or unstable countries, and subsidizing big oil by $130 billion over the past 32 years, not counting the tens of billions more that our military spends to protect petroleum shipments from the Middle East.

Last year alone, the U.S. produced 13 billion gallons of ethanol, displacing the need for 445 million barrels of oil at a savings of $34 billion to the economy. Meanwhile, the 204 biorefineries in 29 states supported nearly 400,000 non-exportable, high-paying green jobs, added $53.3 billion to the gross domestic product, and paid $15.9 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Because of productivity improvements largely resulting from ethanol production, American farmers are using only slightly more acreage than three decades ago to grow more than twice as much corn. Moreover, a third of the corn used for ethanol becomes livestock feed for cattle, poultry and hogs. These facts help to explain why the steady increase in ethanol production has not resulted in a steady increase in food prices. Instead, as the World Bank has acknowledged, sudden jumps in food prices tend to result from rapid rises in energy costs.

Nor does ethanol damage motor vehicle engines, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized, approving 15 percent ethanol blends for use in cars and light trucks from model years 2001 and later.

Yes, the ethanol industry is developing biofuels from feedstocks ranging from switch grass to plant and wood wastes and even municipal garbage. That is why it is so important to maintain the companies, the markets, the skilled workforce and the infrastructure that will produce, transport, blend and market the next generation. As President Obama has explained, and as nature teaches, we can't have a second generation without a first generation.

Matt Hartwig, Washington

The writer is communications director of the Renewable Fuels Association, the trade association of the U.S. ethanol industry.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.