Ethanol is a viable, sustainable alternative to gasoline

Your May 12 editorial, "Corn lobby's tall tale of a gas substitute," buys into all of the myth and misinformation that the oil industry is so cleverly shoveling around. As a full disclaimer: I am CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. These are just a few counterpoints to your editorial:

1. The ethanol subsidy that your editorial references and says supports the corn industry is an excise-tax exemption that goes to blenders of gasoline, which primarily is the oil industry. It does not go to corn farmers or to the ethanol industry.

2. There is absolutely no validity to the claim that Brazilian sugar-based ethanol is eight times more efficient than US corn-based ethanol. Brazilian costs are cheaper but nowhere to that scale. In fact the margin has tightened in the US direction since world sugar prices have gone up. It is true that Brazil uses sugar cane-stalk residue, but the US gets distillers grains (DDGs) - a livestock feed - as a byproduct of ethanol production. When they are netted against each other the difference is slight.

3. The Brazilian industry has been heavily subsidized for 20 years. It was created by mandate and so the cost of infrastructure was internalized. If the US followed the same step there would be no need for incentives.

4. Corn-based ethanol competes economically with gasoline without subsidy anywhere north of $45 a barrel for oil.

5. Take the subsidies away from oil production and give ethanol market access to the distribution system, and ethanol can compete with gasoline without incentive.

6. The Sierra Club study on smog is an anomaly among similar studies.

7. Have you checked the price of corn lately? Corn acres are set to decline by 5 percent this year because of low prices. It is not the boon to corn producers and the corn lobby that your editorial tries to paint.

I could go on. The simple fact is that the current ethanol industry is small but growing rapidly. It is economic and sustainable. It is only one part of a solution - switchgrass can and will be a part, and other sources will as well. We can produce in the range of 15-20 billion gallons of ethanol from corn by 2015 without disrupting other markets for corn. By then other sources should be contributing to ethanol production, too, and then it will be making an impact.

We have an energy crisis and a climate-change crisis. Even by your editorial's admission, corn ethanol is better than the status quo in starting to address these issues.
Rick Tolman
Chesterfield, Mo.

Like a lot of "corn from ethanol" critics, your May 12 editorial has completely missed the point of why this is an important step for America: Anything is preferable to sending more money overseas to dangerous rogue countries that would like nothing more than to harm us. Certainly there are better alternatives - i.e. sugar, canola, or grasses, but corn is a readily available expedient. It is but a step on the road to energy independence.
Ron Schiller
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

A larger problem of student cheating

All I could think as I read David Callahan's May 8 Opinion piece, "A better way to prevent student cheating," was, "Would I be comfortable traveling in an airplane designed or maintained by someone who cheated his or her way through college?"
Judith Hardardt
Davis, Calif.

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