The question of ending the subsidies is fracturing the Republican leadership in Washington, National Public Radio reported.
(Reuters) – Sugar cane ethanol pioneer Brazil, which touts the efficiency and environmental qualities of its biofuel, could soon begin making it from less-efficient corn to soak up excess grains in remote areas.
The combined industry and governmental
A battle is quietly being waged between the industry that produces genetically modified seeds and scientists trying to investigate the environmental impacts of engineered crops. Although companies such as Monsanto have recently given ground, researchers say these firms are still loath to allow independent analyses of their patented — and profitable — seeds.
In February 2009, frustrated by industry restrictions on independent research into genetically modified crops, two dozen scientists representing public research institutions in 17 corn-producing states told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the companies producing genetically modified (GM) seed “inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good” and warned that industry influence had made independent analyses of transgenic crops impossible.
Unprepared for the scientists’ public protest and the press accounts that followed it, the industry, through its American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), met with crop scientists. Late last year, ASTA agreed that, while still restricting research on engineered plant genes, it would allow researchers greater freedom to study the effects of GM food crops on soil, pests, and pesticide use, and to compare their yields and analyze their effects on the environment.
While many scientists expressed optimism about the agreement, questions remain over whether — and how soon — it will alter what has been a research environment rife with obstructions and suspicion.
With subsidy support for corn ethanol under attack, algae and cellulosic look to secure federal support. The result: a subsidy battle in the Capital that could dictate the direction of the U.S. biofuel industry over the next decade.
Has the transition to advanced biofuels turned the corner?
Probably not yet, but sustainable alternatives are beginning to get their day in the sun in Washington D.C. The result: a subsidy brawl is taking shape that will likely dictate the direction of U.S. biofuels development over the next 5-10 years.
There are a few moving elements, but here are the recent highlights:
Despite strong evidence that growing food crops to produce ethanol is harmful to the environment and the world’s poor, the Obama administration is backing subsidies and programs that will ensure that half of the U.S.’s corn crop will soon go to biofuel production. It’s time to recognize that biofuels are anything but green.
In light of the strong evidence that growing corn, soybeans, and other food crops to produce ethanol takes a heavy toll on the environment and is hurting the world’s poor through higher food prices, consider this astonishing fact: This year, more than a third of the U.S.’s record corn harvest of 335 million metric tons will be used to produce corn ethanol. What’s more, within five years fully 50 percent of the U.S. corn crop is expected to wind up as biofuels.
Here’s another sobering fact. Despite the record deficits facing the U.S., and notwithstanding President Obama’s embrace of some truly sustainable renewable energy policies, the president and his administration have wholeheartedly embraced corn ethanol and the tangle of government subsidies, price supports, and tariffs that underpin the entire dubious enterprise of using corn to power our cars. In early February, the president threw his weight behind new and existing initiatives to boost ethanol production from both food and nonfood sources, including supporting Congressional mandates that would triple biofuel production to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
“Sustainable development” has generated substantial buzz since the concept was brought into focus by the Brundtland Commission’s now famous 1987 report, Our Common Future. The Commission defined the concept as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Since then, the definition has been debated and adapted for specific purposes throughout policy, academic, governmental, and organizational circles. Many of these interpretations are only relevant to the circumstances in which they are applied. In the context of biomass and biofuels, sustainability standards are specific rules and criteria by which the production, transportation, and processing of feedstocks can be assessed for their environmental, social, and other values.
In the international community, sustainability guidelines for biomass have begun to emerge, but remain aspirational at best. While high oil prices, increasing pressures to mitigate climate change effects, and efforts to boost rural agricultural production throughout the world will continue to sustain support for the development of biomass and biofuel resources, environmental concerns will temper optimistic projections for the industry.
There’s a kernel of good to this story, if you care about climate change and high food prices.
Sure, ethanol has been a great example of how America can begin to overcome its dependency on foreign fossil fuels. But using a staple like corn to make the biofuel has driven up food prices and displaced other food crops.
Now comes the Obama administration, which has proposed new rules for renewable fuels, aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, he’s vowed to help prop up the corn ethanol industry with stimulus dollars, and commit stimulus funds to biofuel research.
Cellulosic ethanol has been hailed as the next frontier in renewable fuels. After all, most ethanol in the U.S. comes from corn, a staple product in the food chain. Use more corn for ethanol, and you’re bound to drive up food prices. If you’ve seen “King Corn,” you know the score. Corn ethanol also has its problems with energy inputs versus energy outputs. In other words, the benefits can be sketchy.