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Ethanol, Meant to be Clean Fuel, Hurts the Environment

Research suggests the amounts of water and land needed to grow corn for ethanol are not sustainable in the U.S. (Flickr)
Research suggests the amounts of water and land needed to grow corn for ethanol are not sustainable in the U.S. (Flickr)
August 2, 2018

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Ethanol – the corn product blended into gasoline – was meant to make fuel cleaner in the United States.

But a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency shows biofuel has created another set of environmental problems.

Nevada's Desert Research Institute has conducted research on the impacts of corn ethanol. And Kent Hoekman, research professor emeritus with DRI, says Congress' 2007 act that mandated use of ethanol in gasoline reduced dependence on fossil fuels and boosted rural economic development.

But he says it's now clear the environmental consequences of ethanol far outweigh its benefits.

"The disbenefits include potential water pollution, water shortages, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, increased air pollution, greater food insecurity and diminished sustainability," he explains.

Hoekman says corn demands an average of 100 gallons of water to make just 1 gallon of ethanol, compared to about 5 gallons of water used to make gasoline.

And pushing demand for corn to an all-time high has meant expanding cropland into drier regions of the country.

Environmental groups are now asking Congress to reverse the mandate and invest in habitat restoration.

David DeGennaro, an agriculture policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, says runoff from farmland contributes to harmful algae blooms and water contamination. And demand for land to grow corn has cut into important habitats for butterflies, bees and migratory waterfowl.

"The report is a red flag warning us that we need to reconsider the mandate's scope and its focus on first-generation fuels made from food crops," he stresses.

DeGennaro says the EPA report comes at a critical time, since the current administration has shown strong support for ethanol requirements.

The EPA is currently taking comments on its proposed plans for next year's fuel mandates.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - NV