Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ethanol Will Raise Food Prices, Harm Environment


As usual, the U.S. government is turning a blind eye to the truth and facts, and continues down the disastrous path of subsidizing ethanol, which will continue to cause huge problems in the near and distant future.

The U.S. government's plan to increase its ethanol mandate will mean higher food prices and more harm to the environment, according to an impact study conducted for two groups that oppose the increase.

"We continue to believe the government's excessive support of the mature corn-based ethanol industry is simply wrong, since it means burning food for fuel," spokesman Gary Mickelson of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale said in a statement after Bill Lapp, an agricultural analyst, released his study.

"This policy has contributed to higher corn prices, which have led to increased input costs for food makers — including independent livestock producers — and higher food prices for consumers," Mickelson said.

Corn is a major expense to poultry and beef producers, who want to reduce costs. Ethanol is a fuel additive distilled from plants. That distilling is a major market for corn that corn growers want to increase.

The federal government has a mandate that 10 percent of the fuel coming out of commercial gasoline pumps must be ethanol blended into the gasoline. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rule to increase that mandate to 15 percent. The government also maintains a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol.

A recent study from the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri determined approval of 15-percent ethanol blends would increase corn prices by just $0.04 per bushel, ethanol advocates said in response to Lapp's study.

Increasing the ethanol mandate to 15 percent would require planting as much as 111 million acres of corn, according to Lapp's study. Ethanol would use almost half of the corn crop harvested by 2015. The Grocery Manufacturers Association commissioned the study. The U.S. corn acreage in 2008 was about 85 million acres, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show.

"Corn and soybean meal are major production costs in the poultry industry, representing 47% of the cost of growing a chicken in 2008," Mickelson said. "Tyson's annual corn and soybean meal expenditures almost doubled from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2008 and ethanol was a significant reason for the increase."

These arguments have been heard before, the pro-ethanol Renewable Fuels Association replied.

"Time and again, American farmers have answered the need for food, feed and renewable fuel," said association President Bob Dinneen in a statement. "Yet, time and again well-heeled groups seeking to derail the expansion of ethanol are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

"Many will recall last summer's effort to finger ethanol as skyrocketing oil prices, a weak dollar, speculation, droughts, and global demand drove grain and food prices higher," Dinneen's statement said. "At the time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M University , and scores of other reputable analysts found such claims to be biased, overblown and outrageous. Even the Congressional Budget Office has looked at the issue and found that energy prices had 3 times the impact on the rising price of food than was the increased use of ethanol. Despite being thoroughly refuted last summer and lacking credibility on the issue, these groups are back at it again."

The ethanol industry is struggling even at its current 10 percent mandate. The fall in fuel prices from last year's record highs has severely hurt ethanol interests, industry figures show.

Ethanol's chief use in the United States is for a fuel additive. Ethanol in gasoline reduces carbon emissions and the price of gasoline, advocates say. However, ethanol plants are hard-pressed to make a profit when fuel prices are as low as they are now, according to industry figures -- even though gasoline prices remain higher than $2.50 a gallon at the pump.

At least 10 ethanol companies have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the past year, Bloomberg Business News reports. Valero Energy Corp., the nation's largest independent oil refiner, became an ethanol plant owner in April by buying up seven Midwestern ethanol plants for pennies on the dollar compared to the original investment, Associated Press reports.

"You are going to see this become a trend ... especially with the government wanting to go green," Daniel Flynn, an analyst who follows the renewable fuels industry for Chicago-based Alaron Trading, told Associated Press about the Valero buy. "There are a lot of these ethanol plants hanging by a hair. This could be the perfect time for the big companies to step in."

The U.S. Energy Department reported last week that gasoline supplies climbed 3.39 million barrels to 205 million in the week ended June 12, the largest increase since Jan. 16, Bloomberg reported.

"If you're not eating that much hamburger, you're not using as much Hamburger Helper," Peyton Feltus, president of Randolph Risk Management in Dallas, told Bloomberg. "Until demand shows a sustainable increase, we can't hold these prices up" for ethanol, he said.

Ethanol advocates received another setback earlier this month when a U.S. House panel allowed the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take a wider look at the commodity's environmental impact.

The House Appropriations Committee defeated, 29-30, an amendment to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from using so-called indirect land-use change when measuring greenhouse gases from biofuels, Reuters news service reported.

The United States is the world's major supplier of corn. Critics of ethanol claim that the environment is damaged as other nations have to put more land into farming to produce food as more U.S. corn goes to ethanol. The legislation would allow the EPA to study the question and determine if this increase in farm acreage worldwide offsets or at least mitigates ethanol's environmental benefit.

"There is a huge negative effect here," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Missouri, who said an unfair EPA rule "could stop U.S. ethanol production in its tracks."

Scale of Consumption

Corn can produce about 200 gallons of ethanol per acre. If all the corn acreage in the United States were converted to fuel production with corn ethanol, the nation could produce 10 billion gallons of ethanol, the equivalent of about 8 billion gallons of gasoline per year, or about half a million barrels per day. The U.S. consumed about 20 million barrels of crude per day in 2007.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Ethanol News | House for E-trading Agriculture and Ethanol Extended by CME

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CME Group Inc announced on Friday it would expand electronic trading of agricultural contracts by 75 minutes, effective July 1, in a move aimed at further boosting business on that platform.

"It allows customers based in Europe more time to trade during trading hours that are most convenient for them," said CME Group spokesperson Mary Haffenberg.

CME said it would extend electronic trading on July 1 by one hour and 15 minutes to 7:15 a.m. CDT (1215 GMT). Electronic trading currently begins at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) and ends at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT).

The longer hours will be for contracts including corn, wheat, soybeans and ethanol.

"They're trying to capture more business. There are markets open that time of the day and they are meeting the competition," a trader said.

A number of traders said it was another step by the CME, the world's largest derivatives exchange, to eventually offer electronic trading 24 hours a day.

"The exchange thinks it will expand volume, and it might, but I don't think by a lot. But it's another step in their quest toward 24-hour trading," another trader said.

A CME trading floor source said the reason the CME will stop trading at 7:15 a.m. is because of the monthly release of sensitive U.S. Department of Agriculture crop information at 7:30 a.m. CDT.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ethanol News | EPA Report Says Ethanol Harder on Climate than Gasoline - Politicians Throw Fit

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There is so much proof that the ethanol debacle needs to end, that even the report by the EPA that ethanol is worse on the environment than gasoline hasn't stopped politicians trying to get taxpayer dollars into their states from thowing a tantrum.

We’ve entered another ugly battle in the ethanol wars. The EPA released an analysis last month purporting that corn-based ethanol is actually worse for the climate than gasoline on a lifecycle basis, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a ruling that will effectively exclude corn-based ethanol from California’s Renewable Fuels Standard for that reason.

The ethanol industry and its supporters are livid (who cares). House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), a longtime ethanol supporter, threw a fit during a recent hearing and now is threatening to block climate legislation over the new rules. "I don't care,” he exclaimed during a hearing over EPA’s draft rule, “Even if you fix this. I don't trust anybody anymore -- I’ve had it." Ethanol opponents are cheering the agencies' decisions and urging them to look at ethanol under worst-case scenarios.

What is sad about this spat is that while everyone is arguing over whether ethanol is bad, no one is talking about how to make it better. The worst impacts of ethanol occur far from Iowa or Washington in the forests that are burned down to respond to added demand for cropland.

Deforestation results in almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it will not be solved through tired finger pointing. This problem is hard but solvable if we focus on the systemic drivers of slash-and-burn agriculture.

A quick primer on the latest wrinkle from the EPA and CARB: Both reached damning conclusions about the impact of ethanol based on complex economic modeling, but the basic logic behind their analysis is simple:

• Using farmland for ethanol diverts land from being used for food production, driving up price and demand
• Higher prices and demand encourage farmers in the developing world to plant more crops
• Developing world farmers clear and burn forests so they can plant more crops
• Clearing forest for cropland releases a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas
• Thus, devoting cropland to ethanol production leads to increases in greenhouse gas emissions

The ethanol industry and its supporters don’t dispute this logic, but claim two problems with the agencies’ approach: (1) The science behind this economic modeling is too new and imprecise, and (2) biofuels are being held to a much tougher standard than other climate solutions. Their opponents hold that the science is sound, and that other low-carbon technologies simply don't have these massive "indirect land-use" problems.

Yet this debate is just so much fiddling while Rome (or maybe Indonesia) burns. The crux of the problem is not in how we measure the impact of ethanol, it is that developing world farmers clear and burn forests so they can plant more crops. Ethanol is just one of the pressures that speed the disastrous destruction of these forests. The rest is just an accounting exercise.

Farmers in the developing world burn forests because it is the most economical, and often only, choice they have. They often can’t afford fertilizers, equipment or high-yield seeds. They have limited access to informational tools like education, soil tests and precision agriculture technology that would allow them to produce more crops in the same place. Without these resources, the only choice is to find new land.

Moreover, there is little or no barrier to slash-and-burn agriculture. Logging roads often give farmers access to virgin forests. Not enough forests are protected, and where they are, many governments lack the resources or the will to enforce conservation laws.

The solutions to these problems are not easy, but models exist. Technology transfer and economic development programs can increase crop yields and reduce the real costs of agricultural technology. A global agreement on REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation) could protect forests and provide payments from a global trust fund as an alternative to chopping trees down.

In order to reduce the lifecycle impact of ethanol, the industry needs to do more than cry foul on these regulations. It needs to be engaged in finding solutions to reduce the pressure to clear land for agriculture. A forward-thinking producer would be lobbying for global forest protection and working with partners in the agricultural industry to support technology transfer to the rural poor.

Meanwhile, ethanol's detractors need to admit that producers can't bear this burden alone, and that failing to compromise with such a politically powerful industry will lead only to delay and more poorly designed policies.

Here's a modest proposal: Congress lets the ethanol industry off the hook for its indirect upstream effects, and the industry agrees that some of its massive subsidies be diverted to programs that protect forests and give farmers options beyond burning them down. Putting more resources toward these programs will not only protect forests from the indirect effects of ethanol, but also the threats of logging, development or other future pressures on agricultural growth.

We will see many more of these fights in the coming years as industries, activists and policymakers argue over who has to bear the burden for indirect, unanticipated environmental and social damages. We need a systemic approach that tackles the problems on the ground, instead of shifting the blame around.

Noam Ross is a senior analyst at GreenOrder, an LRN Company. GreenOrder is a strategy and management consulting firm that has helped leading companies turn sustainability into business value since 2000.

Of course there aren't any climate problems in the first place, and to listen to Ross attempt to apply logic, confusion and reason to the made-up crisis, just shows how far many will go when decisions and conclusions take money out of their greedy pockets.

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