Biofuel Backlash: Subsidies for corn ethanol are hurting ­people and the planet

Attributed Authors: C. Ford Runge Published: May 2010
 

Subsidies for biofuels in the United States have reached levels unimagined when support for an "infant industry" began in the late 1970s. Today, the infant has grown into a strapping behemoth with a powerful sense of entitlement and an insatiable appetite for ethanol's primary feedstock: corn. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a record corn harvest of 13.2 billion bushels, 9 percent larger than the harvest of 2008. Ethanol production consumed more than a quarter of that crop--enough to feed 330 million people for a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental organization in Washington, DC...

Doug Koplow, founder of the energy consulting firm Earth Track in Cambridge, MA, has calculated that the combination of tax credits, mandates, and tariffs will cost taxpayers $400 billion from 2008 through 2022, assuming that the mandated targets can be met. Eventually, 16 billion gallons are to come from cellulosic biofuels--yet not a drop of such fuels is now being commercially produced. If President Obama's target becomes fact, the cumulative taxpayer cost of subsidizing biofuels will exceed $1 trillion by 2030.

Tags: biofuel ethanol