Cruz Right, Trump Wrong on Ethanol

It has been said that if we were getting so-called “alternative” energy from potatoes instead of corn, the first primary/caucus would be held in Idaho instead of Iowa. As it is, ethanol from corn in the first state where votes are actually cast in a presidential election has led to endless political pandering in support of a fuel that consumes more energy than it provides, is difficult to transport, reduces car mileage, can damage auto enegines, and damages the environment.

Presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, chose not to pander Thursday night in the Iowa debate, drawing the obvious conclusion that if ethanol were so cost-effective and beneficial, its use would not have to be mandated. Let the market and consumers decide in an “all-of-the-above” pro-choice energy market. Otherwise, what you have is a Solyndra on steroids. In response to the inevitable question, Cruz responded, as Time reports:

“We should be developing oil, and gas, and coal, and nuclear, and wind, and solar, and ethanol, and biofuels,” Cruz explained. “But, I don’t believe that Washington should be picking winners and losers. And, I think there should be no mandates, and no subsidies whatsoever.”

Indeed, President Obama’s whole energy policy has been one of picking winners and losers, from Solyndra and the attempt to shove solar power down our throats, to subsidies of towering wind turbines that slice and dice birds, including endangered species, to his “war on coal,” which raises energy prices and creates mass job loss.

Cruz, among others, questions the wisdom of putting food in our gas tanks, something which accomplishes little except driving up commodity prices and making virtually all our foods more expensive to buy at the supermarket.

Trump, on the other hand, is in full-throated support of this poster child for crony capitalism. As Breitbart noted on Trump’s recent visit to worship at the altar of corn:

Billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump met with leaders of POET, an ethanol company here in Iowa, and some of the co-chairs of the American Renewable Fuels group to talk about the importance of ethanol….

“You know what? he said. “I went out to see some of the folks on the ethanol. Good stuff and great people, put a lot of people to work out here. I just want to thank them, they’re doing an amazing job.”

No doubt those who grow the corn and make the ethanol are good, hard working people. As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized during to 2012 presidential cycle on the true costs of ethanol:

Each acre of corn requires 130 pounds of nitrogen and 55 pounds of phosphorous.

Increased acreage means increased agricultural runoff that is creating aquatic dead zones in our rivers, bays and coastal areas.

According to the Hoover Institution’s Henry Miller and professor Colin Carter of the University of California, Davis, “ethanol yields about 30% less energy per gallon of gasoline, so miles per gallon in internal combustion engines drop significantly.”

Automakers have warned that increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline would damage current engines. Under current law, the federal government requires that fuel contain 10% ethanol. Another mandate requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2020.

As IBD also noted:

Ethanol was supposed to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses, yet farmers “plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil,” the AP notes.

We quoted Tim Searchinger, an agricultural expert at Princeton University, in 2010 as saying, “There is a huge imbalance between the carbon (released) by plowing up a hectare of forest or grassland from the benefit you get from biofuels.”

According to David Tilman, University of Minnesota ecologist and co-author of a study published in 2010 in the journal Science, converting the grasslands of the U.S. to corn for ethanol releases excess CO2 emissions of 134 metric tons per hectare (roughly 2.47 acres).

Ethanol is a bad deal, both environmentally and economically. As the Heritage Foundation reports:

Mandated renewable fuel production is not just causing Americans pain at the grocery store but also at the pump in a number of ways. Ethanol is less efficient, ultimately costing the driver more. One gallon of E85 fuel (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) is at best 83 percent as energy efficient as one gallon of gasoline. So, even if ethanol were to help decrease the price of gasoline per gallon, drivers are essentially buying watered-down gas that gets them fewer miles. According to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report, after adjusting for the lower energy content of ethanol, E85 gasoline costs nearly 50 cents per gallon more than regular gasoline, 15 cents more than premium gasoline, and 12 cents more than diesel. 

Ethanol will not save the earth and it does nothing for our cars or our pocketbooks. It’s time to shuck corn ethanol and the political pandering that goes with it. Trump’s a businessman. Why doesn’t he want the free market to make the decision?

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.             

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