Historic drought raises flags about ethanol fuel mandate

by Cassady Sharp

August 8, 2012

Corn withers in a field in Temple Mills, Iowa, July 30, 2012, as the midwest suffers record high temperatures and the worst drought in a generation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that the drought has rapidly increased in severity over the past month. As of August 1, more than half of U.S. counties had been designated as disaster areas by USDA in 2012, mainly due to drought. Photo by Karuna Ang/Greenpeace

Karuna Ang/Greenpeace

[caption id="attachment_9250" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="Corn withers in a field in Temple Mills, Iowa"][/caption] When it rains, it pours with not a drop in between. We've seen weather swinging on a pendulum of extremities this summer including recent fatal floods in the Philippinesto more than half of the U.S. facing a historic drought from which ripple effects could be felt for months. Among these ripple effects are a major spike in food prices. (For those on food stamps, even a slight increase can make a big difference and that program could face serious cuts according to the latest House Farm Bill). And what crop is most at threat due to this historic drought? Corn, but not only because of its demand as a food source and livestock feed. Forty percent of corn is used for ethanol in fuel due to the Renewable Fuel Standard which mandates a certain amount of U.S. biofuel production. That 40 percent is therefore removed from the food supply. Not only does this mandate contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, it also causes food prices to rise in good conditions. Unfortunately, we can expect to see more from this extreme-weather pendulum, and in that case, it's high time for the EPA to rethink the Renewable Fuel Standard. And while we're at it, it's high time our leaders start taking climate change seriously.

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