Corn-based ethanol is inefficient as a fuel for automobiles, reducing vehicle gas mileage by 20-30 percent in vehicles using E85, the highest ethanol content fuel. Fewer miles-per-gallon of gas essentially eliminates any savings achieved, even by mixing ethanol with gasoline in the lower 9 percent ethanol blends required in all U.S. gasoline today. And of course, it also takes energy to produce ethanol -- for farming and distilling the corn and transporting the final product to the pump -- and much of that energy will come from carbon-based fuels.
None of these arguments has stopped the aggressive ethanol lobby from getting its way with Congress, however, and pressure increases in presidential election years as Iowa farmers encourage candidates to pledge allegiance to ethanol during the Iowa caucuses.
If ethanol really were the miracle fuel its proponents claim, you'd think there would be huge profits in producing it in the free market. But that's not the case. Consumers not only pay for ethanol at the pump, they're paying taxes as well to subsidize ethanol production in the U.S. -- and they're paying a hidden tax to keep cheaper, foreign sugar cane ethanol from competing with the domestic corn-based product. Subsidies to gasoline blenders amount to about 51 cents per gallon, and the government imposes a 54-cent tariff on foreign ethanol so that it can't provide a cheaper alternative for U.S. consumers.
And matters will only get worse as government mandates higher bio-fuel content in U.S. gasoline from the current 9 percent to 15 percent by 2015. Ethanol won't solve the energy crisis, but it may well lead to a food crisis in the U.S. and elsewhere. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports that the cost of providing wheat, corn, cereal and other foodstuffs to poor nations has gone up 41 percent since October 2007, which will mean we can provide less assistance to starving people around the world. Federal policy is literally diverting food from the table to the gas tank -- and it's time we stopped it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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