Between holiday festivities and the general frustration at Congress’ inability to make a productive decision about, well, anything, we almost missed the fact that politicians actually got something right: they allowed a multi-billion dollar subsidy for the corn ethanol industry to expire.
The subsidy — the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit — provided the oil and agribusiness industries with $0.45 per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline, amounting to a total of approximately $6 billion each year.
Several environmental organizations, including Care2 partner Friends of the Earth (FOE), campaigned for years to expose the dirty, wasteful underbelly of the corn ethanol industry. Last year, over 24,000 Care2 members signed a FOE petition telling members of Congress to vote against the ethanol tax credit extension, and on December 31, their efforts were rewarded.
“The end of this giant subsidy for dirty corn ethanol is a win for taxpayers, the environment and people struggling to put food on their tables,” said FOE biofuels policy campaigner Michal Rosenoer. ”Corn ethanol is extremely dirty. It leads to more climate pollution than conventional gasoline, and it causes deforestation as well as agricultural runoff that pollutes our water. The growing demand for fuel crops also means less land is available for growing food, so food prices are going up. This is something many families simply cannot afford.”
In early 2011, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) released a warning that U.S. and European policies to increase the production of biofuels could lead to almost 200,000 deaths in poorer countries–mostly due to its impact on food prices.
The AAPS wrote: “Research by the World Bank indicates that the increase in biofuels production over 2004 levels would push more than 35 million additional people into absolute poverty in 2010 in developing countries. Using statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Indur Goklany estimates that this would lead to at least 192,000 excess deaths per year, plus disease resulting in the loss of 6.7 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) per year.
“Given corn ethanol’s downsides, it’s outrageous that taxpayers have been subsidizing the industry to the tune of $6 billion a year,” said Rosenoer. The industry’s inability to get this tax credit extended signals that it no longer has carte blanche in Washington — corn ethanol is no longer a sacred cow.”