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Editorial: Lowering ethanol targets is a smart energy choice

Corn destined to be turned into ethanol is a big cash crop in the Midwest, but as a renewable fuel it is problematic – and a perennial political boondoggle.

Midwest farmers get billions of dollars in subsidies to grow corn used to produce ethanol for fuel. A new rule by the Environmental Protection Agency would scale back planned increases in the amounts of ethanol allowed in gasoline. The amount of ethanol in gasoline would still increase in coming years, but not as much as called for in a 2007 law passed to address climate change and reduce dependence on foreign oil. The new proposal would reduce the amount the law requires by more than 4 billion gallons in 2015 and more than 3 billion gallons next year.

The EPA says the standards cannot be met, partly because of limitations on the amount of renewable fuels other than ethanol that can be produced and because of lower gasoline consumption than predicted.

The lower targets have Midwestern farmers up in arms. Ethanol opponents, including oil companies and refineries, say the rule still allows too big an increase.

The opponents are right. With the U.S. becoming more energy independent and gasoline consumption down, the question arises – how much should the U.S. government continue to subsidize corn farmers and producers of other biofuels?

Growing corn for ethanol takes farmland out of food production and drives up the cost of food and feed. It takes huge amounts of water. The costs are a burden on the livestock industry and families trying to stretch precious dollars at the grocery store. Concerns have also been raised about whether the savings in greenhouse gas emissions are offset by ethanol’s carbon footprint.

Pursuing renewables as part of the nation’s energy portfolio should continue, but not at an exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers when demand isn’t the driving force.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.