By John Stossel
No doubt about it, if there were a Miss Energy Pageant, Miss Ethanol
would win hands down. Everyone loves ethanol.
"Ramp up the availability of ethanol," says Hillary Clinton.
"Ethanol makes a lot of sense," says John McCain.
"The economics of ethanol make more and more sense," says Mitt Romney.
"We've got to get serious about ethanol," says Rudolph Giuliani.
And the media love ethanol. "60 Minutes" called it "the solution."
Clinton, Romney, Barack Obama and John Edwards not only believe ethanol
is the elixir that will give us cheap energy, end our dependence on
Middle East oil sheiks, and reverse global warming, they also want you
and me -- as taxpayers -- to subsidize it.
When everyone in politics jumps on a bandwagon like ethanol, I start to
wonder if there's something wrong with it. And there is. Except for that
fact that ethanol comes from corn, nothing you're told about it is true.
As the Cato Institute's energy expert Jerry Taylor said on a recent
"Myths" edition of "20/20," the case for ethanol is based on a baker's
A simple question first. If ethanol's so good, why does it need
government subsidies? Shouldn't producers be eager to make it, knowing
that thrilled consumers will reward them with profits?
But consumers won't reward them, because without subsidies, ethanol
would cost much more than gasoline.
The claim that using ethanol will save energy is another myth. Studies
show that the amount of energy ethanol produces and the amount needed to
make it are roughly the same. "It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make
the fertilizer, to run the tractor, to build the silo, to get that corn
to a processing plant, to run the processing plant," Taylor says.
And because ethanol degrades, it can't be moved in pipelines the way
that gasoline is. So many more big, polluting trucks will be needed to
More bad news: The increased push for ethanol has already led to a sharp
increase in corn growing -- which means much more land must be plowed.
That means much more fertilizer, more water used on farms and more
This makes ethanol the "solution"?
But won't it at least get us unhooked from Middle East oil? Wouldn't
that be worth the other costs? Another myth. A University of Minnesota
study [http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/103/30/11206] shows that
even turning all of America 's corn into ethanol would meet only 12
percent of our gasoline demand. As Taylor told an energy conference last
March, "For corn ethanol to completely displace gasoline consumption in
this country, we would need to appropriate all cropland in the United
States, turn it completely over to corn-ethanol production, and then
find 20 percent more land on top of that for cultivation."
OK, but it will cut down on air pollution, right? Wrong again. Studies
indicate that the standard mixture of 90 percent ethanol and 10 percent
gasoline pollutes worse than gasoline.
Well, then, the ethanol champs must be right when they say it will
reduce greenhouse gases and reverse global warming.
Nope. "Virtually all studies show that the greenhouse gases associated
with ethanol are about the same as those associated with conventional
gasoline once we examine the entire life cycle of the two fuels," Taylor
Surely, ethanol must be good for something. And here we finally have a
fact. It is good for something -- or at least someone: corn farmers and
processors of ethanol, such as Archer Daniels Midland, the big food
processor known for its savvy at getting subsidies out of the taxpayers.
And it's good for vote-hungry presidential hopefuls. Iowa is a key state
in the presidential-nomination sweepstakes, and we all know what they
grow in Iowa [http://www.iowacorn.org/]. Sen. Clinton voted against
ethanol 17 times until she started running for president. Coincidence?
"It's no mystery that people who want to be president support the corn
ethanol program," Taylor says. "If you're not willing to sacrifice
children to the corn god, you will not get out of the Iowa primary with
more than one percent of the vote, Right now the closest thing we have
to a state religion in the United States isn't Christianity. It's corn."
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