No doubt about it, if there were a Miss Energy Pageant, Miss Ethanol would win hands down. Everyone loves ethanol.
"Ramp up the availability of ethanol," says Hillary Clinton.
"Ethanol makes a lot of sense," says John McCain.
"The economics of ethanol make more and more sense," says Mitt Romney.
"We've got to get serious about ethanol," says Rudolph Giuliani.
And the media love ethanol. "60 Minutes" called it "the solution."
Clinton, Romney, Barack Obama and John Edwards not only believe ethanol is the elixir that will give us cheap energy, end our dependence on Middle East oil sheiks, and reverse global warming, they also want you and me -- as taxpayers -- to subsidize it.
When everyone in politics jumps on a bandwagon like ethanol, I start to wonder if there's something wrong with it. And there is. Except for that fact that ethanol comes from corn, nothing you're told about it is true. As the Cato Institute's energy expert Jerry Taylor said on a recent "Myths" edition of "20/20," the case for ethanol is based on a baker's dozen myths.
A simple question first. If ethanol's so good, why does it need government subsidies? Shouldn't producers be eager to make it, knowing that thrilled consumers will reward them with profits?
But consumers won't reward them, because without subsidies, ethanol would cost much more than gasoline.
The claim that using ethanol will save energy is another myth. Studies show that the amount of energy ethanol produces and the amount needed to make it are roughly the same. "It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make the fertilizer, to run the tractor, to build the silo, to get that corn to a processing plant, to run the processing plant," Taylor says.
And because ethanol degrades, it can't be moved in pipelines the way that gasoline is. So many more big, polluting trucks will be needed to haul it.
More bad news: The increased push for ethanol has already led to a sharp increase in corn growing -- which means much more land must be plowed. That means much more fertilizer, more water used on farms and more pesticides.
This makes ethanol the "solution"?
But won't it at least get us unhooked from Middle East oil? Wouldn't that be worth the other costs? Another myth. A University of Minnesota study shows that even turning all of America's corn into ethanol would meet only 12 percent of our gasoline demand. As Taylor told an energy conference last March, "For corn ethanol to completely displace gasoline consumption in this country, we would need to appropriate all cropland in the United States, turn it completely over to corn-ethanol production, and then find 20 percent more land on top of that for cultivation."
OK, but it will cut down on air pollution, right? Wrong again. Studies indicate that the standard mixture of 90 percent ethanol and 10 percent gasoline pollutes worse than gasoline.
Well, then, the ethanol champs must be right when they say it will reduce greenhouse gases and reverse global warming.
Nope. "Virtually all studies show that the greenhouse gases associated with ethanol are about the same as those associated with conventional gasoline once we examine the entire life cycle of the two fuels," Taylor says.
Surely, ethanol must be good for something. And here we finally have a fact. It is good for something -- or at least someone: corn farmers and processors of ethanol, such as Archer Daniels Midland, the big food processor known for its savvy at getting subsidies out of the taxpayers.
And it's good for vote-hungry presidential hopefuls. Iowa is a key state in the presidential-nomination sweepstakes, and we all know what they grow in Iowa. Sen. Clinton voted against ethanol 17 times until she started running for president. Coincidence?
"It's no mystery that people who want to be president support the corn ethanol program," Taylor says. "If you're not willing to sacrifice children to the corn god, you will not get out of the Iowa primary with more than one percent of the vote, Right now the closest thing we have to a state religion in the United States isn't Christianity. It's corn."