Ethanol Incentives Contribute to Gulf of Mexico Dead ZoneBy Clayton Bodie Cornell
Green Options; October 20, 2007
It looks like ethanol subsidies may impede efforts to reduce the size of the Dead Zone in the
Recent energy policies, combined with pre-existing crop subsidies, tax policies, global market conditions and trade barriers all provide economic incentives for conversion of retired and other cropland to corn production for use in ethanol production. Such conversions could lead to corn production on an additional 16 million acres…
The Dead Zone, an area in which there isn’t enough dissolved oxygen to support aquatic life, has been measured in the
It turns out that the greater Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) drains a grand total of 40% of the contiguous
To address this issue, the Science Advisory board recommends a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous fluxes from farmland. Unfortunately, recent trends pushing corn-based biofuels are not exactly aligned with this strategy:
Certain aspects of the nation’s current agricultural and energy policies are at odds with the goals of hypoxia reduction and improving water quality…[A]n emerging national strategy on renewable fuels has granted economic incentives to corn-based ethanol production.
Without some change to the current structure of economic incentives favoring corn-based ethanol, N[itrogen] loadings to the MARB from increased corn production could increase dramatically in coming years, rather than decreasing, as needed…
The alternative is cellulosic ethanol and avoiding corn-based fuels altogether:
Alternatively, the use of perennial crops and other feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol requires a more complex refining process that produces more net energy and results in lower fertilization and thus less nutrient runoff than corn-based ethanol.
The Dead Zone in the
Science Advisory Board (SAB) Hypoxia Panel Draft Advisory Report