It has become fashionable of late for big city reporters to beat up on ethanol and other renewable fuels with “doomsday” articles. (Ever notice how the national media seem to travel in packs on these?)
In the stories, corn- or grain-based ethanol is often criticized for causing: (1) rising food prices and resulting shortfalls in food aid programs, (2) less fuel efficiency compared to petroleum fuels, (3) the use of more energy to produce than it produces and (4) increased emissions of certain pollutants.
Scientists are refuting many of the claims, including rejection of ideas ethanol is a net-loss when it comes to energy savings by none other than researchers for the National Resources Defense Council.
But the pseudo-debates over whether ethanol takes more energy to produce than petroleum fuels and ethanol emissions pale in comparison to a recent statement by someone who was no friend of ethanol for many years.
The statement from T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman, didn't get much press, but it should have given the latest run-up in oil prices to more than $108 a barrel in recent trading sessions.
Pickens, who admitted he once opposed ethanol, said on CNBC's daily “Squawk Box” program that America's purchases of foreign oil are costing the country a half a trillion dollars every year.
“You take 10 years, and you have $5 trillion,” said Pickens. “That's more than $1 billion a day. We can't stand that.” (That $500 billion per year is not far from the record federal deficit of $552 billion in 2004.)
Ethanol industry leaders have been saying the United States needed to reduce its use of foreign-produced oil to avoid transferring such wealth out of the country. Few put it in such dramatic terms as Pickens.
Acknowledging he didn't think much of ethanol's claims in the early years, he said he now supports increased production. “I'd rather have ethanol and recirculate the money in the country, than to have it go out the back door on us.” (Pickens is investing $10 billion in wind energy.)
Pickens' probably won't be the last word on ethanol, but his comments accentuate some of ethanol's positives, such as a recent report that increased ethanol use is expected to reduce the country's petroleum consumption by 90,000 barrels per day.
In 2006, ethanol contributed $49.1 billion to the country's gross economic output while supporting the creation of 160,231 jobs, putting another $6.7 billion in the pockets of American consumers and adding $5 billion in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments. 2007's numbers are expected to be higher.
As far as claims about ethanol's biological “footprint,” recent reports says greenhouse gas emissions from Midwest oil refineries are expected to increase by as much as 40 percent in the next decade because of the extra energy required to extract oil from the tar sands of Canada.
Most importantly, ethanol is producing income from the marketplace, a development all of us should favor.