May 13, 2002
Stinging from criticism about its refusal to make the auto industry improve fuel efficiency the Bush administration has now offered its plan to improve fuel efficiency, and thus improve air quality: add ethanol to gasoline.
Ethanol is supposed to lower the amount of pollution resulting from burning fuel in vehicles. And it is supposed to be an improvement on another additive currently used in gasoline, called MTBE. It turns out that MTBE contaminates the ground water in areas where it is produced, causing 14 states to ban its use.
But ethanol, which is just getting up to speed with production due to double in the next two years, has its own environmental problems. On April 24, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the trade group for the ethanol industry. It criticized ethanol manufacturers because their plants have been releasing carbon monoxide and some cancer-causing pollutants into the air. There are currently 61 ethanol plants in the country, with 14 more under construction, and at least half of them exceed the rules for releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. Some ethanol plants are as much as a thousand tons per year over the limit.
So what’s the real value of ethanol in the gasoline? Well – it’s difficult to say. One this is true: ethanol is derived from corn, although not corn like a little farmer grows on 50 acres. The corn for ethanol is grown agri-business style and its increased use will benefit the biggest agricultural corporations. Archer-Daniels-Midland, a contributor to Republican and Democrat alike, loves this newest administration plan.