delware environmental institute

News Journal: The real cost of ethanol

Across the farmlands of America, there are acres upon acres of corn. Corn planted over roads that used to subdivide cropland. Corn planted on ground once considered too wet for cultivation. Corn planted on ground typically too dry to produce dependable yields but are profitable today because of innovations in drought-tolerant seeds developed by companies such as DuPont Pioneer.

There's now corn planted on 1.3 million acres that until recently was reserved for conservation – an area larger than all of Delaware. Last year, American farmers planted 95 million acres of corn, 10 million acres more than in 2008.

Fourteen percent of Delaware's total land base, 180,000 acres, was last year planted in corn.

This phenomenon is being driven by increased demand for corn-based ethanol, which now consumes more than 40-percent of corn grown nationwide. Researchers at South Dakota State University say it has spawned the most important change in land use in decades.

As envisioned by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act – championed and signed into law by President George W. Bush and embraced by candidate and now President Barack Obama – ethanol was supposed to lower gas prices for consumers, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment by helping reduce levels of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere.

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