The Wall Street Journal writes today on the front page about how enthusiasm for corn based ethanol is cooling in the United States.
The fortunes of many U.S. farmers, farm towns and ethanol companies are tied to corn-based ethanol, of which America is the largest producer. Ethanol is also a cornerstone of President Bush’s push to reduce dependence on foreign oil. But the once-booming business has gone in the dumps, with profits squeezed, plans for new plants shelved in certain cases, and stock prices hovering near 52-week lows.
Now the fuel’s lobby is pleading with Congress to drastically boost the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must blend into gasoline. But formidable opponents such as the livestock, packaged-food and oil industries also have lawmakers’ ears. What once looked like a slam-dunk could now languish in pending energy legislation that might not pass for weeks, if ever.
Ethanol’s problems have much to do with its past success. As profits and production soared in 2005 and 2006, so did the price of corn, gradually angering livestock farmers who need it for feed. They allied with food companies also stung by higher grain prices, and with oil companies that have long loathed subsidies for ethanol production.
The U.S. gives oil refiners an excise-tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend into gasoline. And even though it’s the oil industry that gets this subsidy, the industry dislikes being forced to use a nonpetroleum product. The U.S. ethanol industry is further protected by a 54-cent tariff on every gallon of imported ethanol.
This year, even as the production glut was driving down ethanol’s price, critics and opposing lobbyists were turning up the heat. Environmentalists complained about increased use of water and fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol, and said even ethanol from other plants such as switchgrass could be problematic because it could mean turning protected land to crop use. Suddenly, environmentalists, energy experts, economists and foreign countries were challenging the warm-and-fuzzy selling points on which ethanol rose to prominence.
I think there is definitely room for growth in the use of biofuels in the United States, and I also think that ethanol can work as a potential option.
But let’s face it, if we as a country really believe in ethanol as a solution, then why are we putting a 54 cent tariff on every gallon of imported ethanol, which prevents us from bringing in much cheaper sugarcane based ethanol from places like Brazil?