By Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair)
As you and your families get ready for another winter, it is likely that you’re asking yourselves how you can conserve energy and save a few dollars. To be sure, many people are asking similar questions, but the discussion is not limited to just heating costs. While it is true that fuel prices are still at record highs, a host of other products have also become more expensive.
Energy issues have taken center stage both statewide and nationally. It goes without saying that most of us are already aware of the need to free the country from its dependence on foreign oil. However, there are both good and bad ways to move forward. A decidedly poor decision is to react in such a way that has not received a thorough examination of the positives and negatives. I fear that this is the case, with regard to the growing ethanol industry in the United States.
Though some state legislators have recently begun promoting this fuel as a cost-effective, clean and homegrown source of energy, it may not quite live up to others' expectations. While it does offer several benefits such as being a renewable resource that is domestically grown and manufactured, ethanol does have some problems associated with it. However these problems are often overshadowed by the country’s need for a clean, cost-effective, renewable, and domestically manufactured energy source.
Of the many problems associated with ethanol, its feasibility for Pennsylvania is the largest. It is important to note that much of Pennsylvania’s corn crop is grown for use as feed for cattle, sheep and other livestock. The economics of ethanol are far reaching. As the price of corn goes up, so too do the production costs associated with a host of other foodstuffs. For example, meat prices go up because it costs more to feed the animals. Items as innocuous as a bottle of soda may feel the impact because the primary sweetening agent for soda is derived from corn.
Corn is also a nutrient-hungry crop, requiring more chemical fertilization than others. This drives up the cost for that product as well, making production of soy, barley, wheat and oats more expensive as well. Making the problem worse is the increased runoff and environmental contamination that can result from the extensive use of fertilizers. This is just the first indication that ethanol is not as environmentally friendly as many believe.
In fact, a recent study completed by researchers at Stanford University found that vehicles using E85, a common blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, may be more hazardous to human health than plain old gasoline. While E85 reduces the presence of two carcinogens, it increases two others—one of which being formaldehyde, which is a fluid often used in embalming. Moreover, the research noted a significant increase in the emission of ozone, which contributes to smog, respiratory diseases and global warming.
Making the problem even worse is that ethanol is not as efficient a fuel source as gasoline, meaning you’ll need to use more of it to get to the same destination. Reporters often fail to mention this when comparing gallon for gallon prices.
Lastly, while government subsidies and a wealth of private investment have gone very far to promote the industry, little has been done to encourage development of a transportation infrastructure for the fuel. Ethanol is water soluble, unlike gasoline, and this means it is far more susceptible to contamination. The nation’s oil pipelines are unable to handle ethanol for this reason because moisture is often present and would ruin the fuel once mixed. Billions more need to be invested if this fuel would ever make it to Pennsylvania from the nation’s heartland.
What we’re left with is a fuel that is costly, negatively impacts the environment and unfairly burdens farmers not participating in the corn industry. Ethanol may have a place in the future energy market, but for now, that option is a long way off.
Rep. Jerry Stern
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Tricia Lehman
House Republican Public Relations