Ethanol suspect in economic crunch

By Pat Lyons, Guest Columnist

As Americans continue to look for alternative fuels to power our homes, schools, businesses, and automobiles, we must rethink one such “alternative” that is taking a big bite out of major food crops — ethanol.

Far more corn grown in this country is going toward fuel production, not food consumption, causing food prices to escalate around the world.

The World Bank’s World Economic Outlook 2008 reports that, “although biofuels still account for only 1.5 percent of the global liquid fuels supply, they accounted for almost half of the increase in consumption of major food crops, mostly because of corn-based ethanol produced in the United States.”

Midwest farmers are the benefactors of government subsidies, tax credits, mandates, and production requirements, which are in fact working against policy goals relating to energy security, environmental protection, and rural prosperity.

The government, not the market place, is dictating crop selection and prices. The consequences are being felt around the world and right here at home in New Mexico.

As a third-generation New Mexico rancher and farmer, I can’t remember a tougher time to make a living off the land.

While the debate over ethanol’s viability rages on, we must consider:

• How much energy does it consume to produce a gallon;

• how efficient is it compared to other fuels (ethanol has about 30 percent less energy content than gasoline by volume);

• and, what happens when massive amounts of corn or other products are taken out of the food chain.

Policy decisions have already been made in Washington that are impacting each one of us whether we raise livestock, farm the land, or simply go to the grocery store to feed our families.

We are truly at a critical juncture in America’s path to smart energy policies. If ethanol is to play a role in our energy future we must develop policies that mesh and don’t do more harm than good.

Solutions should be based on science and careful consideration rather than political expediency.

Pat Lyons is New Mexico’s land commissioner. Contact him at 505-827-5760 or by e-mail:
plyons@slo.state.nm.us