Ethanol has problems; there should be a review

The Associated Press has conducted a comprehensive look at the ethanol industry and its analysis more than suggests an environmental disaster. An AP investigation says the industry – touted as friendly to the environment and a way to combat global warming by reducing use of fossil fuels – has wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed wildlife habitat and contaminated water supplies. The AP is citing specific examples, largely related to altered farming practices, as those who own land seek to cash in on the ethanol boom.

Those who support the industry will offer counterarguments. See the letter to the editor on this page as an example.

We see ethanol as epitomizing modern politics. Elected officials tend to run as friends of the environment. They also don’t mind creating programs, projects, subsidies and mandates that will benefit their home states. Once created, these things are difficult to dismantle because they do indeed benefit those participating. In the case of ethanol, this includes the farmer who grows the corn, the people who work in ethanol plants and support those plants, and the towns across the Midwest that benefit from the business activity.

But we should recognize that all of this is man-made. Ethanol did not arise on its own without government support. So if it is not meeting expectations or actually causing harm, there should be a review of the government policies behind it. Everyone should be allowed to weigh in, but independent judgment – as in the case of the AP review – should help raise awareness that the industry is not as pristine and beneficial as some would have you believe.