$5 Billion in Corn Ethanol Subsidies Should Be Eliminated, Food Before Fuel Urges

cargill ethanol plant photo

Cargill ethanol facility in Iowa, photo: Steven Roermerman

Regular TreeHugger readers will know that most of the posts about corn ethanol on this site are not exactly favorable, neutral at best. Compared to other feedstocks for ethanol, biodiesel, or some of the ‘green crude’ being developed, corn simply isn’t the best choice—not that other feedstocks also don’t have their problems, not by a long shot (palm oil plantations being the oft-used example). This message is increasingly become more widely received, and the $5 billion annual corn ethanol subsidy is increasingly coming under fire.

Now, on the 30th anniversary of the first federal subsidies for ethanol, a spectrum-spanning coalition (who’d think the National Turkey Association and the World Wildlife Fund would be on the same side?) is calling for president-elect Barack Obama and Congress to phase out corn ethanol subsidies.

They cited these stats to indicate that there is public support for their cause:56% of People Want Congress to Reduce or Eliminate Ethanol Subsidy

Ipsos Public Affairs released the results of a national survey commissioned by members of the Food Before Fuel campaign. According to the Ipsos poll of 1,000 Americans, nearly nine in 10 (89%) are concerned about the rising cost of food, including 57 percent who say that they are very concerned. When provided with information about USDA data showing corn ethanol production is the cause of 10 percent of food price inflation, nearly half (49%) become less likely to support policies aimed at promoting the use of corn to produce ethanol. Moreover, when asked if they would support keeping or changing the existing Congressional policies, a majority (56%) of respondents call for Congress to change these policies by reducing or eliminating subsidies and mandates for the use of corn ethanol.

A Laundry List of Corn Ethanol Problems
In summary, the reasons cited by the group for eliminating the subsidies are well publicized: the environmental benefits of corn ethanol are not what they are claimed to be; their effect on increased food prices is genuine (if open to debate to its extent); it threatens soil, wildlife and water; it receives a disproportionate amount of support compared to other, more effective renewable energy sources such as wind and solar; and what’s more, corn ethanol would not be economically viable without government support (TH note: a fairly feeble argument considering that the same could be said of many worthy renewable energy projects—the result of hidden and not so hidden subsidies of which the fossil fuel industry can avail themselves).

More on the call to end corn ethanol subsidies: Food Before Fuel
Corn Ethanol
Round and Round We Go: Is Corn-Based Ethanol Viable?
Corn Demand from Ethanol Distilleries Vastly Understated
40 Corn Ethanol Plants Could File For Bankruptcy by Early 2009

Related Content on Treehugger.com