Ethanol advocates claim that the biofuel is a cheap, renewable energy source that reduces pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. It sounds too good to be true—and it is.
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Corn Ethanol Fuel Alternative Male: I don’t know if you’ve noticed but gas is expensive these days. Is there a solution? Well for years politicians have been telling us that Ethanol is a renewable energy source that will reduce pollution and our reliance on foreign oil. Male: I am for sugar cane, bio fuels, switch grass and corn based ethanol because of our need of independence on foreign oil. Female: We will send our energy dollars to the Mid West not the Middle East. Male: But an increasing number of people are skeptical about using ethanol for fuel. Male: Ethanol is a dangerous idea. Female: It’s a waste of our resources and putting money into something that we did not think would work. Male: Corn based ethanol also known as grain alcohol and moonshine is made by fermenting and distilling corn. You can enjoy it as an alcoholic beverage or burn it as fuel. Male: The US currently produces more than seven billion gallons of ethanol each year and most of us routinely use gasoline that contains up to 10% ethanol. We talk to Ron Bailey the science correspondent for Reason Magazine to learn more about the ethanol fuel craze. Male: The ethanol mandates came about an outgrowth of an effort to lower air pollution from gasoline. It became part of the environments community response to global warming. Male: Fueled by support from environmentalist and the Corn Lobby, politicians have showered the ethanol industry with subsidies. Male; Ethanol subsidies right now, the main one is what they call the blenders credit, it’s 51 cents per gallon, the corn farmers also get an additional subsidy for just growing corn. Well the other thing is, is that we certainly don’t want cheap ethanol being imported from somewhere else under cutting our corn farmers. So we have a 54 cent per gallon tariff against ethanol importers from other countries, if you add up all the subsidies of good ethanol, it’s probably in the area of about eight billion dollars. Male: Some people like the folks of at the American coalition for ethanol say that the subsidies are justified. Male: And we believe the benefits that ethanol receive from the federal government are warranted because ethanol is a home grown fuel that creates jobs and increase as economic development in rural areas and reduces our dependence on foreign oil and provides Americans with a clean fuel choice to help clean up our environment. Male: Actually the question whether or not ethanol produces less pollution that gasoline is a very open question. If you add up all the cost for example the energy that goes into making fertilizer, if you add up the energy that goes into plowing the fields, if you add up the energy that is used to produce the ethanol. If you add all that up, if the net energy balance is not very good, in fact a lot of researchers believe that in fact, you’re putting more energy producing ethanol than you get out of it when you burn it. Male: Okay but at the very least ethanol reduces green house gas emit ions right? Male: Recent research actually shows that what has happened is that as we are turning more food into fuel in the United States is, the farmers around the world in developing countries Brazil and Indonesia specifically, are now boosting there food production but to do that they’re chopping more of their rain forest and plowing at more grass lands to do that. This releases a lot more carbon dioxide than as being saved than producing new able fuels in the United States. Ethanol is much worst for the environment than gasoline as it turns out. Male: It also turns out that pollution may not be the biggest problem associated with ethanol. Male: We’re in the midst of a world food crisis where food has not been as expensive for over three decades and this is pushing several million people to the edge of starvation and part of the problem is that we turning food into fuel. Male: The amount of grain that it takes for a corn to produce one tank, 20 gallon tank of ethanol could feed one pers

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