There are several problems with having Iowa kick off the presidential primary voting. One of the most serious problems is the Renewal Fuel Standard - the ethanol mandate. Because Iowa is full of corn farmers and corn farmers love ethanol (though much of their own farm equipment is exempt from the watery, destructive fuel), presidential candidates pledge their support for it and the RFS.
But there's more and more evidence that ethanol isn't the green fuel we hoped for. Now a team of scientists report that, on balance, ethanol has been a net negative for the environment.
"A 10-year review of the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by researchers at the University of Tennessee (UT) found that the RFS is ‘too reliant' on corn ethanol, and the production of this biofuel is resulting in additional water and soil problems, as well as ‘hampering advancements' in other biofuels," the website Clean Technica reported last week. "Over the course of the last 10 years, corn ethanol has been lauded as being a bridge fuel solution that could reduce air pollution and increase national energy security in the U.S., and production of corn ethanol has gone from 4 billion gallons per year in 2005 to some 14.3 billion gallons per year in 2014."
But corn-based ethanol hasn't lived up to the hype.
"Corn ethanol hasn't lived up to its promise as being a cleaner and more environmentally friendly fuel choice, even after an estimated $50 billion in subsidies, in part because of some of the ‘hidden' costs of ethanol production, and this focus on corn ethanol has lead to a stagnated advanced biofuels industry, according to researchers," the website wrote.
To be more specific, ethanol doesn't reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's because it takes tractors and other industrial processes to produce it.
"Academic studies have shown that (ethanol) could actually contribute ‘to a sharp and overall increase of GHGs,' and that ethanol production and use ‘emits more particulate matter, ozone (as well as other smog precursors), and other air pollutants than gasoline,'" the report added.
Then there are the unintended consequences - which any responsible policy-maker must take into consideration.
"According to the Environmental Working Group, the ethanol mandate drove up the price of corn so high that it led farmers to convert some 8 million acres of previously uncultivated land to corn production, resulting in the release of between 85 million and 236 million metric tons of carbon per year, as well as an increase in the application of fertilizers, which also boosts GHG emissions," Clean Technica wrote.
And it's long been clear that ethanol drives up food prices. An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is converted into ethanol. This drives up not only corn-based food product prices, but also the price of livestock feed, which means higher meat prices. In 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the RFS resulted in higher food prices just at restaurants of about $3.1 billion per year.
It's time to plow under the RFS. Sorry, Iowa, but ethanol is a bad deal for everyone.