The San Francisco Chronicle ran a hit piece on ethanol on its front page yesterday, blaming it for hypoxia and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Balderdash. We’ve responded to the paper, making three Important points:
First, only a small percentage of corn grown in the United States becomes ethanol — about one in five bushels, when you account for the ethanol coproducts used as livestock feed. The story might as well have blamed golf courses.
Second, the hypoxic zone has changed widely from year to year, with no connection to increased ethanol production.
Finally, everyone admits that there are numerous causes for hypoxia besides agriculture, including urban runoff and industrial sewage, and that there is still a lot we don’t know about hypoxia. Focusing on only one cause out of many will never lead to a more complete solution.
The Chronicle story came out of the Chronicle’s Washington bureau, and Washington is home to many BP lobbyists and anti-ethanol crusaders, so someone obviously pitched this idea to the writer. There is a series of attacks being waged on corn farmers and ethanol producers by people who are a little concerned that the Gulf oil disaster is bad news for some the oil industry and want to divert attention away.