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Ethanol is efficient, environmentally friendly, economical

Editorial in Lincoln Journal Star , March 5, 2011,
in response to
Ethanol Only Makes Sense in a Fantasy World

By Kim Clark

There are many myths and misconceptions about ethanol including it takes more energy to produce ethanol then you get back, that ethanol causes food prices to increase and “ethanol is harmful” – to what I’m not sure, but “something.” The reality is that ethanol is efficient, environmentally friendly and economical.

University of Nebraska research shows that ethanol emits 51 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline and that 13 gallons of ethanol are produced for each gallon of petroleum-based fuel used in the entire corn-to-ethanol life cycle. This life cycle analysis has tipped considerably toward corn ethanol over the last decade as corn yields increase and ethanol facilities become more efficient.

Some in the anti-ethanol fringe attempt to claim the price of food is quite closely related to the price of corn. For example, William R. Stone Jr. (Local Viewpoint, February 28) went back a few years to note a University of Illinois report that said a 24-ounce box of corn flakes cost $3.85 in June 2007, $4.19 in May 2008 and $4.79 in November 2008.

While the National Agriculture Statistical Service (NASS) does report a price increase for corn during the first two dates – in June 2007 corn was $3.53 per bushel but in May 2008 corn was $5.27 per bushel – by November 2008 the price had dropped to $4.26. If corn was responsible for the increase, as Mr. Stone tries to argue, then why didn’t the price corn flakes decrease when the price of corn decreased? And why didn’t Mr. Stone acknowledge that corn prices fell dramatically during part of the time period he cites? This tired and false argument by Mr. Stone only further proves that those with an anti-ethanol bias will do whatever it takes – including misstating facts – in an attempt to further their agenda.

For every dollar per bushel change in the price of corn, the value corn in a 24-ounce box of corn flakes changes about 3-cents. So let’s check the math a bit.

The price of corn went up $2.74 from June 2007 to May 2008 – increasing the value of the corn in the corn flakes about 7.5 cents. Yet the price of corn flakes went up 34 cents. Then the price of corn dropped by $1.01, lowering the value of the corn in the box by 3 cents. Yet the price of corn flakes went up another 60 cents!

So what’s going on here? Why does a net 4.5-cent increase in the value of corn in the corn flakes box equate to a 94-cent increase in price?

The answer, of course, is simple: higher oil and energy costs. The more those items go up – as they did in 2007-08, the more it costs to make corn flakes, make boxes for corn flakes and then ship those boxes all across the country. In fact, these costs are much more than the value of corn
– or any other ingredients – actually in the box!

Late last week oil once again hit $100 per barrel. Almost instantly we saw the price of gas jump to $3.49 a gallon. At the same time, flex fuel vehicle owners could fill up with E85 (an 85 percent ethanol blend) for $2.69. That’s an 80-cent per gallon difference. You are saving a lot at the pump filling up with E85, even with some mileage difference, and at the same time replacing 85 percent of the petroleum in your tank with ethanol made right here in Nebraska.

It’s also important to remember that ethanol is decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. In 2010, 13 billion gallons of ethanol displaced the gasoline refined from 445 million barrels of crude oil. The U.S. saved $34 billion from the reduction in crude oil imports.

Where should we as a nation prefer to get our energy from? The Middle East or from American farmers who produce a renewable fuel supply each year and generate jobs and tax revenue while producing a cleaner environment?

Some people believe that regular gasoline is unsubsidized; however, oil depletion allowances, tax credits and generous subsidies for new exploration – not to mention the cost of keeping peace and shipping lanes open around the world – adds up faster than a NASCAR now running on E15
can make it around the track.

Ethanol makes sense in many ways. It is better for the environment, is cost effective and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Next time you fill up at the pump, think about America’s farmers and agriculture. Nebraska is the third largest producer of corn and the second largest ethanol producer. It is time to provide the support that American agriculture deserves.

Kim Clark is Ag Program Manager with the Nebraska Corn Board that represents 26,000 corn producers in Nebraska.

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