The Environmental Impact of Ethanol

Corn FieldTo ensure that we have a planet worth living on, we need to invest in our environmental future. Installing alternative energy systems, like solar panels and wind turbines, is one way we have made this push. But not every alternative energy form is helpful. One in particular is actually harmful to large swaths of land in the midwest. In 2007, House Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) proposed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included provisions to utilize ethanol as a fuel additive. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law as part of his plan to reduce gasoline consumption by 20% within 10 years. Whether unknown or unspoken at the time, this plan would leave some lasting negative effects on the country.

In the hills of southern Iowa, rainwater has cut into the land, eroding away soil in fields where corn, the crop ethanol is primarily derived from, was being grown to support this initiative. In addition, the rainwater picked up the fertilizer used in those fields and deposited it into local water supplies. Back in 2007, there was a lot of support politically on both sides of the aisle for corn growth. Then presidential candidate Barack Obama pushed corn as a way to hold back the global warming tide. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi played the angle of reduced fuel costs for consumers. But in the end, the benefits of ethanol are running out of gas.

In an effort to keep up with the demand, farmers had to destroy millions of acres of conservation land in order to plant more corn. As a result, habitats and water supplies were damaged. Wetlands were filled in, prairies were mowed over, and carbon dioxide from the soil in these locations was released into the atmosphere. But that was just the beginning. Since the initiative, the 15 million acres of corn being planted are draining all the nutrients from the soil, making it week and unstable. When the heavy rains come, this weak soil gets swept away, destroying crops and damaging water supplies.

Despite this destruction, the current administration stands by the initiative, promoting the benefits to the farming industry. The White House believes the benefits of ethanol outweigh the environmental impact its use causes, but scientist and environmental activists like the Environmental Working Group are denouncing its use. This is of course not to say that all renewable energy is bad, but the effects and impact of each renewable source should be examined carefully and implemented only if it will truly be a benefit.

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