The ethanol backlash continues with a New York Times editorial titled The High Costs of Ethanol:
The distortions in agricultural production are startling. Corn prices are up about 50 percent from last year, while soybean prices are projected to rise up to 30 percent in the coming year, as farmers have replaced soy with corn in their fields. The increasing cost of animal feed is raising the prices of dairy and poultry products….
A recent report by the OECD, an economic forum of rich nations, called on the United States and other industrialized nations to eliminate subsidies for the production of ethanol which, the report said, is driving up food costs, threatening natural habitats and imposing other environmental costs. “The overall environmental impacts of ethanol and biodiesel can very easily exceed those of petrol and mineral diesel,” it said.
Corn-based ethanol also requires a lot of land. An O.E.C.D. report two years ago suggested that replacing 10 percent of America’s motor fuel with biofuels would require about a third of the total cropland devoted to cereals, oilseeds and sugar crops.
Meanwhile, the environmental benefits are modest. A study published last year by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that after accounting for the energy used to grow the corn and turn it into ethanol, corn ethanol lowers emissions of greenhouse gases by only 13 percent.
The United States will not meet the dual challenges of reducing global warming and its dependence on foreign suppliers of energy until it manages to reduce energy consumption. That should be its main goal.
There is nothing wrong with developing alternative fuels… What’s wrong is letting politics — the kind that leads to unnecessary subsidies, the invasion of natural landscapes best left alone and soaring food prices that hurt the poor — rather than sound science and sound economics drive America’s energy policy.