Economics for the Earth Blog

Corn ethanol infrastructure: A bad Christmas gift from Congress

Posted Dec. 16, 2011 / Posted by: Michal Rosenoer

The United States Department of Agriculture announced its final round of funding on December 14 and, once again, they put the interest of corporate polluters before the environment and taxpayers. The Rural Energy for America Program is supposed to help rural farmers develop clean energy alternatives like wind, solar, and energy efficiency projects with federal grants and loans. However, in 2011, $4.28 million of taxpayer money went to building almost 400 "blender pumps" that make corn ethanol available at gas stations. On December 14, while Congress should have been focused on extending our social security net and cleaning up our environment, the USDA decided instead to fund 266 new blender pumps. I, for one, would have preferred that Congress's Christmas gift to the American public was clean air, fresh water, and safe food, not more gas stations.

So why is a program that's supposed to be funding cleaner energy funding the corn ethanol industry? Because that industry is about to lose its biggest subsidy, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit.  As the end of this nearly $6 billion per year handout draws closer (it's set to expire on December 31), the major biofuels lobbies have switched their main ask away from the conventional tax credits and started requesting increased infrastructure investments for ethanol instead. Besides blender pumps, the corn ethanol industry has also been asking for storage tanks and pipelines to ship their dirty fuel around the country. In fact, in April 2011, the corn ethanol industry requested a pipeline project that would have cost $9 billion -- at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to pay their bills. Increased funding for corporate polluters like the corn ethanol industry is just wasteful and absurd.

So why does ethanol require special infrastructure at all? Because corn ethanol is actually more corrosive and more explosive than gasoline, meaning that it needs special infrastructure all for itself or it will corrode through gasoline pipelines and poison our water, pollute the soil, and ruin engines. See our new fact sheet on ethanol infrastructure for more information.

Not only is corn ethanol infrastructure expensive, but it also locks in a market for corn ethanol. If the government continues to fund infrastructure development for this dirty, polluting fuel, then truly clean energy like electric cars, wind, and solar are going to have to struggle that much more to compete in the market. Congress needs to stop funding corn ethanol and start incentivizing truly sustainable energy alternatives.

Make sure your congressional representatives know that we, the public, do not want any more subsidies for corn ethanol or its infrastructure.

Ethanol Infrastructure Factsheet (Factsheet)

Corn ethanol infrastructure, which includes pipelines, storage tanks, and special pumps at gas stations, is a bad investment for taxpayers and for the environment

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