My San Antonio: Ethanol cure worse than the disease?

July 22, 2013

July 22- The nation's renewable fuel standards embody the noble goal of decreasing the nation's dependence on fossil fuels, with benefits envisioned for the environment and more enduring energy security.

But increasing dependence on food as the source of these renewable fuels has counter-balancing repercussions that should be taken into account. This, too, is an “environmental” issue.

Increasing the use of ethanol from food sources in gasoline is one of those counter-balancing repercussions.

And while the standards that call for increasing use of ethanol would also include that made from non-food sources, there still exists a legitimate fear that federal approval of gasoline with a 15 percent blend of ethanol will harm older engines.

The economic case for ethanol is weak. When agriculture skews toward production for energy rather than food, this has an impact on food prices affecting American and global consumers.

The United States is the world's largest corn producer; 20 percent of its crop is exported; some 40 percent of U.S. corn is used to make ethanol; corn remains the main ingredient of U.S. ethanol; and there is some question about the volume that will be available from non-food sources.

Some studies show that ethanol production consumes more energy per unit than ethanol produces.

So, even aside from the potential harm done older engines — the EPA and the auto industry and others disagree on this — increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline is problematic at best.