Congress: Say no to ethanol plan 

President Nixon promised that his 1973 Project Independence would make America independent of foreign oil producers in 1980. Ever since then, the magic year has slipped further and further into the future as Washington has become more actively involved in deciding how Americans fuel their vehicles, heat their homes and power the world's biggest economy.

Now Washington politicians don't even bother to promise energy independence. President Bush says only that we can replace 75 percent of our oil imports by 2025. Among his tools for getting there is a fivefold increase in U.S. ethanol consumption.

The Bush proposal is as likely to succeed as Nixon's 1973 program and the many failed federal energy initiatives that followed.

Current law mandates that, by 2012, 7.5 billion of the approximately 140 billion gallons of gasoline used annually by Americans be replaced with ethanol. Bush wants to expand the ethanol mandate to 35 billion gallons. That sounds like a lot of ethanol but nobody is likely ever to see the goal reached. The reasons have to do with ethanol itself.

Even if the entire U.S. corn crop was converted to ethanol production, it would still only supply about 18 billion gallons.

The U.S. could open its domestic market to foreign ethanol, notably the sugar-cane-derived product from Brazil, but U.S. trade barriers preclude such imports.

President Bush thinks research will soon solve problems associated with creating ethanol from alternatives such as prairie grass. Even if that unlikely scenario proves true much sooner than anyone expects, the fundamental problems with ethanol will remain.

The most basic of these problems is that one-third more ethanol is required to produce as much energy as comes from one gallon of gas. So, either gas tanks in every car and truck on the road will have to somehow be made much bigger — an expensive proposition that raises all kinds of safety questions — or we all fill up much more frequently, which means more long lines at the pump.

Then there are such inconvenient facts as the immense amount of gasoline required to grow and harvest corn, sugar beets or grass used in ethanol production, and the millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel required to get ethanol to consumers. Ethanol cannot be shipped in pipelines, so it has to be trucked to market. Did we mention how vastly increased ethanol production is likely to drive up food costs? That's already happening.

Congress should say no to Bush on expanding the ethanol mandate and instead encourage other alternative forms of energy.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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