Switchgrass: The magic wand that transforms crappy biofuels policy into gold
This short piece in Foreign Policy magazine is revealing, I think, of the congealing conventional wisdom in D.C. policy circles.
The basic thesis is this: Farm subsidies that now promote agricultural exports should simply be switched over to promote agricultural fuels — i.e., ethanol. That way, Bush could get the WTO off his back about export subsidies, mollify the domestic agricultural lobby, and cure America’s addiction to foreign oil. So easy!
One small note of caution:
So what’s the catch? Corn farming is rough on the environment. Soil erosion due to wind and water is rampant. Fertilizer and pesticide runoffs produce algae blooms that result in "dead zones," including one in the Gulf of Mexico that is so polluted it cannot support aquatic life. Furthermore, building the ethanol processing plants will take 3-4 years, and gas stations would have to commit to providing ethanol. And, because ethanol uses only the starch in corn, not the oil, protein, or other components, converting corn into ethanol is attractive only if there is a market for the byproducts. Opinions differ, but some estimate that byproduct markets could saturate well short of 11 billion gallons of production.
Luckily, there’s a handy solution to these problems. What is it?
Wait for it … wait for it …