Sunday, June 29. 2008
From the ELI's Environmental Forum publication (subscription only):
Biofuels and the Prairie Pothole Wetlands
Government mandates for ethanol production are helping to create a perfect storm putting pressure on this vast wetland region spanning the U.S.-Canadian border. Increased demand for corn may be high enough to undercut the Swampbuster program banning price support payments when farmers convert wetlands to production. Expansion of the cellulosic ethanol industry, if implemented on existing cropland in a thoughtful and environmentally friendly way, could be an asset to the regionís economic and ecological health.
It's that good old Law of Unintended Consequences. More:
Modern agribusiness is characterized by huge capital investments, large volumes of money, and thin profit margins. There is little room for experimentation ó as a rule, change comes slowly to the agricultural landscape of the Prairie Pothole Region. But ethanol fever is sweeping farm country and setting the stage for dramatic changes in land use. Companies have been fermenting corn into ethanol for decades, and many of us have filled our vehicles with a blend of their product. But since the 1970s gas shortages, few of us have given serious thought to weaning our nation off foreign oil. And hardly anyone knew about a plant called switchgrass that, given time and new technology, might be an important ingredient in the recipe for energy independence. But things changed quickly when President George W. Bush referenced switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address and called for a national biofuels mandate at seven times current production by 2017. Congress followed with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which established a renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is now a cornerstone of federal policy, and from all indications, biofuels are here to stay.