What’s more, with half the nation’s corn supply going to produce ethanol, global food prices are rising, leading to hunger and even food riots in other countries. (The amount of corn needed to fill just one gas tank with ethanol could feel a human being for an entire year.) Rising food and fuel prices would seem like good reasons to revisit the ethanol mandates causing the problem. But despite pleas from several states, the EPA has refused to relax or revise the requirements for the use of corn ethanol in gasoline.
I have written extensively about how rising fuel costs disproportionately hurt the poor. Inflexible requirements on ethanol fuel victimize the poor coming and going. The poor spend a much larger percentage of their income on food, energy and transportation, and rising corn prices driven by ethanol requirements make all three worse. Policies like this are the worst regressive taxes, because they make it more expensive for the poor to purchase basic necessities, while the rich hardly notice the difference.
But isn’t a clean planet worth a few extra bucks at the pump? Ironically, it is becoming clear that ethanol is by no means a slam-dunk as far as environmental benefits go. In 2009, Stanford researchers demonstrated that burning ethanol actually creates more ozone pollution than burning gasoline. Ethanol also contributes to deforestation as more land is cleared to grow corn. Yet the EPA still considers it a “clean” fuel and continues to mandate its use in our gasoline.
Then there are the lobbyists for the corn and ethanol industries. They receive huge federal subsidies and depend on the federal ethanol requirement to keep up demand for their product. However, at its core this is an issue of the government trying to predict which technological innovation will be the best path toward clean, affordable energy. This is precisely what has led to so many failed and mismanaged “green” energy companies like Solyndra and most recently LG Chem Michigan. So perhaps it is time for the government to reexamine many of its ill-conceived energy regulations and subsidies which have now been shown to do more harm than good. Let your government representatives know that Americans, especially the most economically vulnerable, deserve better.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.