2008 file photo, David Lassman / The Post-StandardNortheast Biofuels’ distillation plant in Volney.

The Ethanol Election Delay

Why the U.S. burns 40% of its corn, despite a global food shortage.

This summer’s once-in-a-half-century Midwestern drought caused global prices for staple food products to soar by 10%—and corn in particular to jump by 25%, according to the World Bank. The food shortages across Africa, the Middle East and South America are the worst since the 1980s and have produced hunger and political instability, according to the United Nations.

So perhaps this emergency is the time to relax the U.S. ethanol mandate, which diverts four of every 10 domestic bushels of corn into gas tanks. That’s equal to 15% of international corn production, burned in internal combustion engines that could run on another fuel. But this obvious solution is evidently not obvious to the Environmental Protection Agency, which, despite studying the question for more than a year, says it needs more time.

Last October, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Action Aid petitioned the EPA to review the so-called renewable fuel standard that mandates that 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into the gasoline supply next year. The free-market think tank and global hunger charity argued that the EPA’s technical regulations implementing the mandate did not meet “basic standards of quality.”

That basically applies to all EPA rule making, though in this case the EPA was supposed to answer in 90 days. But last Thursday the agency took another 90-day extension, the third so far. “We would like to assure you that we are working diligently to provide you with a substantive response,” the EPA claimed.

Specifically, the Competitive Enterprise and Action Aid folks noted that the EPA failed to consider multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting the link between ethanol and world hunger in its public health literature review, as required by law. That includes one paper that concludes that biofuel mandates are responsible for at least 192,000 premature deaths every year. Overall more people die from chronic hunger world-wide than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.

President Obama declared in May that “As the wealthiest nation on Earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against chronic hunger and malnutrition, and to partner with others.” He saluted U.S. global food programs but noted with characteristic understatement that “when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s unacceptable. It’s an outrage. It’s an affront to who we are.”

This sentiment did not trickle down to the EPA, which is less concerned with feeding the world than feeding the ethanol lobby and buying Farm Belt electoral votes. The EPA will now rule on the hunger issue post-election.

A version of this article appeared October 30, 2012, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Ethanol Election Delay.


    • 2 hours ago

    Of course, Ethanol is an utter failure and is strictly a political favor to entice Midwestern farmers. We all know that.

    But, we may not be aware that the highest contributor to greenhouse gases, (and I am not convinced this is an impact of humans), is methane. Methane is a gas 10-20X more potent from a theoretical view regarding the atmosphere’s greenhouse effect.

    Google; “global warming, methane, rice” as a view to WHO is really causing whatever human impact on greenhouse gases.


    • 2 hours ago

    The EPA needs to be shut down. I recommend by Nov.05.2013.


    • 1 hour ago

    They’re (the EPA bureaucrats) are not even concerned about the environment. The carbon footprint created converting all this corn to ethanol to burn in gas tanks is worse than simply burning gasoline – if anyone cares to begin with.


    • 59 minutes ago

    it is a travesty that our bureaucratic agencies follow the lead of Congress in not following the law. A law that requires a budget be produced by the Senate for the past three years is now just ignored with no consequences. It is any wonder that a law requiring consideration of vital material and a response by an agency within 3 months is likewise snubbed. Long have we been a nation that refuses to follow the highest law of the land, our Constitution. Now we are a nation that likewise does not follow the laws passed by Congress – not our President , not agencies under his control, not Congress itself.
    We are no longer a nation of laws. Now we are a nation of very faulty men, who know what is best for society regardless of the law, the Constitution, or the system of government that we once called free. They have become a law unto themselves, and our government is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. And we had better not break THEIR laws as they have proclaimed having issued their regulations, and administered their regulations, or we will find ourselves before their courts, no longer answerable to a jury of our peers. We may still beg before them, but they will decide.

    1 Recommendation

    • 42 minutes ago

    Ethanol and biodiesil are immoral given a hungry world. These food based biofuels are inefficient. These biofuels are “corny, crony capitalism”. These biofuels raise the price of ALL foodstuffs…grains, meat, milk, eggs, fish, edible fats and oils and clothing prices as less cotton is planted, replaced by corn and/or other price inflated crops crowded out by corn acres.

    But here’s the kicker….ethanol was supposed to help the US become more energy “independent”. However, 10% of American made taxpayer subsidized ethanol is being EXPORTED to Brazil…the world leader in the production of sugar cane based ethanol. Why? The price of corn has doubled, led by America’s corn based, government created, ethanol industry.

    So Brazil is plowing up sugar cane fields to plant corn to cash in on the corn price and compete against our corn farmers.

    What an unintended mess…always happens when government tries to control a market…the taxpayer and the Country gets hosed.

    1 Recommendation

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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