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 Greenlee: Corn fuel won't save us

28/10/2007 (Daily Camera Online) - Sane environmental policies are difficult if not impossible to achieve because so many myths separate reality from wishful thinking. Consider the claim that biofuels and sustainability are the same thing. Closer examination of the current ethanol fantasy proves the point.

Ethanol isn't the environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels that many claim. Even worse, using corn as a primary source for producing ethanol is proving to be the least-desirable method of creating a sustainable biofuel. There are other plant materials that might make sense, but corn isn't one of them.

A recent study by Vermont's Institute for Energy and the Environment concluded that expanding the production of corn based ethanol "will lead to more water and air pollution and soil erosion while failing to significantly offset fossil fuel use or combat global warming." The report extensively details the myths surrounding this fuel source also proving that biofuels and sustainability are not necessarily related. Corn is now used to produce about 95 percent of all the ethanol in the United States. It's proved to be a poor — some would say a disastrous — choice for a variety of reasons.

Using a primary food staple like corn to produce gas-tank moonshine is an entirely bad idea. Doing so may inflate the bottom line of agricultural giants like Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and large corporate farms, but it doesn't help consumers who are discovering that the cost of other staples like milk, meat, eggs and tortillas is continually rising. A bushel of corn sells for nearly twice what it did a year ago.

The continuing desire for "sustainable energy" has gotten out of control. Another example is where biofuels like palm oil are being used to replace diesel fuel in Asia and Europe. Holland even has three palm-oil electric power plants on the drawing boards. Palm oil is being produced and shipped from places like Indonesia and Malaysia. Huge tracts of rainforest lands have been cleared and injected with chemical fertilizers to produce more palms for the oil. What's worse is when palm-oil production required new plantations to be created by burning existing peat lands. Doing this generates massive carbon emissions. This kind of murky thinking is precisely what is wrong when good intentions surround environmental fiction. The reality is that some biofuels actually create more environmental harm than good.

The British environmental group Biofuelswatch has said: "Biofuels should not automatically be classed as renewable energy." They explain that every possible source of environmental emission coming from the production, manufacture and transportation of biofuels must be fully accounted for.

Far too often, the environmentally obsessed buy into illogical conclusions based more on desire than practicality. They are quick to demand new laws, new mandates or legislative manipulation to achieve impractical goals. Simply saying that our energy future must rely entirely on renewables is nonsensical and potentially dangerous. Here in Colorado, our governor has hopped on the new-energy bandwagon largely to satisfy the cadre of left-leaning "progressives" who got him elected. He should be cautious about going too far and promising too much.

Through a citizens' initiative, Colorado approved the nation's first renewable-energy standard. The original mandate required 10 percent of our energy needs to come from renewable sources and it was recently doubled by the Legislature. To our credit, these initiatives have prodded eight of the 11 other western states to adopt similar goals.

Some fear, however, that impractical objectives surrounding alternative-energy hysteria may lead to demands to curtail, close down or reduce fossil-fuel exploration in Colorado. Pleading that the sun, the wind, and biofuels will provide all of our future energy needs is nonsense. Let's insist that reason prevails to offset impractical dreamers who seem incapable of grasping reality or unintended consequences.


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