Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

The Ethanol Bill

Congress prepares to soak the 2007 Farm Bill in ethanol, to the delight of agribiz.

"You can have Republicans and Democrats absolutely in lockstep agreement on certain issues in the farm bill, and it has nothing to do with parties. These issues tend to be commodity-driven," gushed USDA chief Mike Johanns. Uh-oh. Looks like a good old-fashioned "bipartisan consensus" has formed: time to use the 2007 Farm Bill as a tool for maximizing ethanol production -- which evidently doesn't already draw enough government support.

An interview with David Pimentel

Any worthy idea can withstand and even be improved by naysayers; scolds and skeptics play the useful role of pointing out obvious flaws. The biofuels industry has no more persistent, articulate, and scathing critic than …

Three perspectives on the biofuels debate

Imagine how amazing petroleum must have seemed back when it was an emerging alternative fuel in the U.S. Drill a hole in the ground in some parts of Texas and Pennsylvania, and rich black stuff …

Consumer Reports: E85 is jive

Flex-fuel vehicles greenwash Detroit’s SUV addiction.

David mentioned something about it when it came out a couple of months ago, but as Grist wraps up its first week of biofuel coverage, it's worth pointing to again: after much testing and comparing, Consumer Reports finds the whole live-green-go-yellow, E85 thing pretty much a sham. As Grist readers will know, the government gives automakers a credit against their mileage requirements for every flex-fuel vehicle (able to run on ethanol, gas, or a mix). CR's conclusion: Detroit is using it a lever to help it churn out more gas-guzzling SUVs, and the policy is working to increase fossil fuel consumption, not stem it. The most depressing finding, for me: the greenwash appears to be sticking with the general public:

A handy biofuels glossary, and videos to boot

With all the talk of biofuels swirling around, things can get a bit confusing. So we’ve put together this handy glossary for your reference. Now you can pontificate at cocktail parties with the best of …

How cash and corporate pressure pushed ethanol to the fore

… got all liquored on that road house corn … — Tom Waits, “Gun Street Girl” Before it became widely used as a car fuel, ethanol was just grain liquor — and the federal government …

ADM's air-tight business model

Rising sugar prices mean even more profit for the ethanol king.

In today's Main Dish, I attempt to lay out the long and twisted tale of Archer Daniels Midland's government-aided hijacking of the nation's biofuel market. (A while back, during the Poverty and the Environment series, I tried to tell the related story of how ADM high-jacked the food system.) A few days ago, an interesting bit caught my eye in the Wall Street Journal that I couldn't fit into my piece. It's a twist on the topic of ADM, high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and Brazil.

Biodiesel's tropical problem

A blistering report on biofuel from the tropical south.

In today's Main Dish, Julia Olmstead surveys the environmental liabilities involved in biofuel production -- stuff you don't typically hear about in, say, an Archer Daniels Midland press release or from celebrity biodiesel enthusiasts. One of Julia's focuses is industrial biodiesel production, which, she writes, is increasingly focusing on tropical palm as a feedstock: Throughout tropical countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, and Colombia, rainforests and grasslands are being cleared for soybean and oil-palm plantations to make biodiesel, a product that is then marketed halfway across the world as a "green" fuel. As if on cue, today's Wall Street Journal features (sub required) a blistering report on that very topic.

How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us

If oil is over, what’s on the horizon? Photo: They may be hyped as the way of the future, but biofuels already count as a juggernaut. Supported by the government and embraced by the …

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