Stop Subsidizing Ethanol

If you’re reading this, you probably hate the Big Oil Companies. And, let’s be honest, there’s a whole lot of reasons for you to hate them. The only good thing that they do is provide jobs, but many alternative fuel programs would likely provide more. They’re effectively a trust controlling the entire fuel industry, which my favorite president Theodore Roosevelt would not have stood for. But one of the vilest aspects of Big Oil isn’t even a fossil fuel issue, per se, and that’s what this article is about.

Corn — specifically, ethanol.

Ethanol is a type of liquid fuel derived from corn. If you didn’t know, the fuel you pump into your car at the gas station is not pure gasoline, and the additives aren’t just Techron (whatever the hell that stuff is.) When it comes to today’s gas, only about 90 percent of the stuff is pure gasoline, the other 10 percent being the infamous ethanol. This stretches our gasoline supplies a great deal, the additive making us less dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels in general. On paper this sounds like a good thing, and that was the plan in the 1990s when Congress allowed several pieces of legislation approving the addition of ethanol. With added ethanol, there would be a decrease in carbon emissions, politicians argued, as well as a decreased dependence on foreign nations, since the U.S. produces a lot of corn. To sweeten the deal, Big Oil companies were given a tax of 45 cents per gallon, and farmers who decided to grow corn as opposed to cheaper crops were offered splendid little subsidies. Everybody was supposed to win in the end.

But unfortunately, that’s not the way it worked out. First of all, gas prices are on the rise — which sucks, royally. As a commuter, I’m getting pretty tired of paying more than $4 a gallon just to go places. My response? Buy an electric car, or at least a Prius. People are decreasing their dependence on fossil fuels, and in turn, their dependence on ethanol. And because those bills passed in the 1990s mandate a certain production of ethanol per year, the Big Oil companies are worried. All that ethanol has to go somewhere, after all. So they’ve lobbied the EPA, and now they’re trying to increase the amount of ethanol mixed into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent, and again, everybody wins, right?

Wrong again. First of all, ethanol burns out way faster than pure gas, and that reams the average motorist, who would then have to fill up sooner. Not to mention the fact that cars built before the 21st century don’t have the fuel efficiency necessary to maintain a 15 percent ethanol content. What would the solution be? Make two separate pump stations, one for old cars and one for new? The result would be disastrous. It’s absurd to put that kind of faith in the American people, to expect them to read. We wouldn’t have any old cars left and their engines would all be ruined by high ethanol content.

But why enact the tax breaks in the first place? On paper, the subsidies are there to encourage the production of more environmentally friendly fuel options. The big irony here is that the actual production of ethanol isn’t all too good for the environment, and recent trends are suggesting that the emissions reduction coming from the use of ethanol doesn’t outweigh the emissions from the production of the stuff in the first place. The other reason for subsidies is based on encouragement. Corn wasn’t the most profitable crop, so farmers wouldn’t want to grow it without some government encouragement. The irony is that nowadays, there aren’t really any independent farmers. Farms are all owned by corporations. And oh look! What do they all grow? Corn. Corn is in freakin’ everything. Just go home and look at all of the food in your fridge or pantry, and try to find something with no corn products.

Big Oil companies are some of the largest in the world; they can strong-arm politicians and other businesses. They may be researching alternative fuels, but they still force the world to run on oil and ethanol. And ethanol is produced by the corn-growing corporate farms, which are also some of the most powerful corporations in the world. These companies are destructive, wealthy and indirectly control your life. And the government pays them to do this. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared student. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.