Friday, April 10, 2009

Corn Ethanol's Unforeseen Externalities: Land Use Impacts

A new Congressional Budget Office report released April 9th says the long-term implications of ethanol are not certain in part because of uncertainties regarding land-use impacts and technology breakthroughs in cellulosic biofuels. Both the University of California at Davis and Berkeley researchers concluded the same findings over a year ago. The report was requested by Congressmen concerned that increased demand for corn-based ethanol could drive up food prices.

“If increases in the production of ethanol led to a large amount of forests or grasslands being converted into new cropland, those changes in land use could more than offset any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions--because forests and grasslands naturally absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than cropland absorbs,” the CBO study says. Cellulosic ethanol could reduce emissions from the transportation sector about 6 percent, but the study notes that the technology needed to produce cellulosic ethanol is not commercially available and adds that the reductions “would be realized only if cellulosic ethanol could be produced on a large scale and if the effects of changes in land use did not offset the reduction that producing, distributing, and consuming ethanol could make in greenhouse gas emissions.” According to the study, use of corn for fuel would also add 15% to the price of food, higher in developing countries than developed countries.

Once again, it is imperative that we understand the consequences of "good ideas" before we implement them. Once an interest group forms around government money it is almost impossible to take them off the dole.

1 comment:

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