"For years the biofuels lobby has boasted that its product was a green alternative to emissions from oil and gas. But a growing body of scientific evidence is showing that ethanol consumes so much energy and fertilizer, and requires planting so much marginal cropland, that the impact on air quality is at best neutral and on water quality may be negative.
A report released earlier this year by the National Research Council concluded: "Although it may seem obvious that subsidizing biofuels should reduce CO2 emissions because they rely on renewable resources rather than fossil fuels, many studies we reviewed found the opposite." Environmental outfits such as the Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club now oppose ethanol subsidies.
The EPA reduction is a small win for consumers. Since 1978 when the first "gasohol" subsidies were enacted, renewable fuel production tax credits have drained the Treasury of almost $40 billion. The tax subsidies expired recently, but consumers have still been forced to dole out billions at the pump because of the renewable fuel standards.
About 40% of corn production is now used not for food or livestock feed, but for fuel. This has raised the price of corn, and a 2009 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that in some years ethanol has raised retail food prices by 5% to 10% for everything from corn flakes to ground beef."
"This year's 14 billion gallon mandate required refiners such as Marathon and Valero to pay for hundreds of millions of gallons of renewable energy "credits" to avoid busting through the E10 blending wall. Few cars on the road are equipped to handle higher ethanol blends that can end up doing harm to engines."
Mr. Kimbrell asserts that GE technology isn't "environmentally sustainable." One has to ask, compared with what? The introduction of GE crops (to supplant conventional ones) has obviated the need to cultivate vast additional amounts of arable land. Between 1996 and 2011, genetically engineered crops were responsible world-wide for the production of an additional 110 million tons of soybeans, 195 million tons of corn, 15.8 million tons of cotton lint and 6.6 million tons of canola. If modern GE plants had not been available to the 16.7 million farmers using the technology world-wide in 2011, maintaining global production levels at 2011 levels would have required plantings of more than 35 million additional acres.
Mr. Kimbrell claims that GE crops have "very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger." For farmers growing GE crops, the net economic benefit at the farm level in 2011 was $19.8 billion, equal to an average income premium of $329 per acre. From 1996 to 2011, the global farm income gain was $98.2 billion; the economic benefits were divided about equally between farmers in developing and developed countries.
Henry I. Miller, M.D.