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posted: 11/23/2013 5:00 AM

Article downplayed benefits of ethanol

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Your Nov. 12 Associated Press story on "The secret cost of U.S. ethanol policy" is fast and loose with its accusations, yet quite void of facts and distorting. Ethanol has not been "far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised" nor caused farmers to "plow into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil." In fact, a majority of scientists and U.S. federal agencies recognize the benefits of ethanol. All you need to do is a little research.

According to EPA's latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory, no new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005 and grassland sequestered 14 percent more carbon in 2011 (latest data available) than in 1990 -- pre-ethanol. The increase in corn acres in 2012 and 2013 has been achieved through crop-switching, not through cultivation of new, nonagricultural lands like prairie.

Farmers have reduced plantings of cotton, wheat, sorghum, barley, oats and other crops to accommodate the increase in corn acres. In fact, total cropland continues to trend downward and is roughly 5 percent lower than levels in the late 1990s. That's according to the USDA.

When all the greenhouse gas emissions related to producing corn and converting it into ethanol are tallied, average corn ethanol reduces emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline -- that's according to Argonne National Laboratory and its scientists. In terms of fertilizer usage, yes "sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer" to grow corn. But let's put that in context. In 2010 (latest USDA data available), corn farmers used 1 percent less nitrogen, 10 percent less phosphate and 28 percent less potash than in 1985. Yet, the 2010 crop was 40 percent larger than the 1985 crop!

But don't let science and research get in the way of "investigative reporting."

Richard Ruebe

Mount Prospect

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