Letter to the Editor

Ethanol proponents omit key data

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

To the editor:

There has been considerable discussion about the energetic efficiency of ethanol. Why do proponents argue ethanol is beneficial while our studies suggest the opposite?

Proponents omit energetic inputs required to produce and repair farm machinery and plant equipment. They believe it takes no energy to produce farm equipment, yet, as any farmer knows, these are expensive and their maintenance requires considerable further investment. If proponents included the farm machinery in their calculations, instead of a positive energy ratio they would report a minus return on ethanol production. To bias their conclusions further, proponents base their analysis on only nine favorable corn-growing states, whereas we used corn data from all 50.

No studies have evaluated the energy impacts of ethanol production on the environment. Regrettably, corn production causes more soil erosion and uses more nitrogen fertilizer and more insecticides and herbicides (these are serious water pollutants) than any other crop grown in the country and consumes vast quantities of water (both in the growing and distillation-fermentation process). Finally, ethanol production adds to both our global warming and general air-pollution problems.

Pro-ethanol commentaries come from corporations and associations which represent not the family farmer, but precisely those agribusiness corporations benefiting from the vast subsidies of taxpayer dollars without which ethanol production would not occur. While agribusiness corporations rake in some $7 or more per bushel equivalent of corn, the corn grower only gets 2 cents.

Agriculture should be efficient and ecologically sustainable. Ethanol production from corn is neither.

DAVID PIMENTEL, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.