Midwestern drought, election year politics add to pressure on ethanol

An intensely dry season across the midwestern states has led to a sever drought in those regions, and the drought has led to poor production of corn, soybean and wheat, harming corn ethanol exports and adding pressure to the "fuel versus food" debate.

Nati Harnik/AP
In this August 2012 file photo, a dry corn field receives some rain from a passing thunder storm near Blair, Neb. Livestock farmers and ranchers seeing their feed costs rise because of the worst drought in a quarter-century are demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency waive production requirements for corn-based ethanol.

Corn ethanol, the oft-touted answer to the problem of foreign oil, is still suffering problems.

This time, a drop in production--thanks to drought conditions in the midwestern states that produce it--is harming corn ethanol exports and putting further pressure on the fuel vs. food debate.

That pressure also comes in an election year, when ethanol traditionally becomes a hotter topic for debate.

As ieee spectrum reports, the drought has led to poor production of corn, soybean and wheat, meaning lower stocks for food. That's led U.S. livestock producers--and even the United Nations--to lobby the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily suspend the Renewable Fuels Standard--a mandate that dictates the quantity of ethanol required in gasoline.

The RFS is expected to be replaced by a wider-ranging Low Carbon Fuel Standard that will put less emphasis on ethanol. 40 percent of current U.S. corn crops are used to make ethanol.

Though the U.S. corn ethanol lobby suggests that rising prices won't affect the cost of gasoline to any degree, higher corn prices were said to have contributed a quarter of July's 16 cents per gallon increase in U.S. gasoline prices.

Despite the drought, the worst in 50 years, the agriculture industry isn't suffering too badly.

The Renewable Fuels Association says that U.S. farmers are still on track to produce the eighth-largest corn crop on record this year, while rising prices mean that there's more money to be made from corn right now.

And demand for corn ethanol from fuel companies means any U.S. political candidate is unlikely to waive the EPA's ethanol fuel mandates, and risk losing the support of America's farmers.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.