Outside editorial: Ethanol fuel has an unfair advantage

Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The following editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star:

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The problems of corn-based ethanol are threatening to overshadow its promise to help reduce the nation's addiction to oil.

In the last few months, plans to construct several ethanol plants around the country have been shelved or challenged in court. Contributing factors include borrowing expenses, the cost of corn and opposition from nearby property owners.

And a recent report by a research agency of the National Academy of Sciences raises troubling concerns. For instance, plants that produce corn-based ethanol could drain valuable supplies of water now used for drinking, while increased corn production could create more pollution through added use of fertilizers.

People are buying more ethanol than ever. But part of the reason behind the boom is that politicians - to curry favor with the Midwest - have given unfair advantages to corn-based ethanol.

They have tried to make it the renewable fuel-of-choice for motorists, regardless of market forces.

The Missouri General Assembly took that route a few years ago, mandating that most fuel sold in the state had to contain 10 percent ethanol by Jan. 1, 2008.

Ethanol also gets an excessive 51-cent-a-gallon federal subsidy, while the U.S. government keeps out cheaper imports of other forms of ethanol with a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff.

While corn-based ethanol will be part of the mix of renewable fuels available to motorists, it should not be allowed to crowd out other alternatives to high-priced petroleum.

Research and production of ethanol made with perennial grasses and wood chips should be a high priority.

In addition, federal and private research funds ought to be used to provide other ways to propel vehicles, using power sources such as electricity and hydrogen.

Congress should cut back or eliminate both the heavy subsidy for domestic ethanol and the tariff on foreign sources. That would level the field of competition, and lead to the increased manufacturing of other renewable fuels.

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