Three articles appeared before me in the last half-hour: “The hard truth about ethanol,” “Palm-oil frenzy taking toll” (both on the second page of the Sunday Seattle Times), and “Why grocery bills are getting bigger” from MSN Money.

From the first article:

The problem is, ethanol really isn’t ready for prime time … With 113 ethanol plants operating and 78 more under construction, the country’s ethanol output is expected to double again in less than two years … In the end, even the most generous analysts estimate that it takes the energy equivalent of 3 gallons of ethanol to make 4 gallons of the stuff …If you make ethanol from corn, the environmental benefits are limited …corn has doubled in price over the past year, from about $2 to $4 a bushel, thanks mostly to demand from ethanol producers … rising demand for feed corn has squeezed the supply — and boosted the price — of not just sweet corn but also wheat, soybeans and several other crops … If we’re serious about achieving energy independence and mitigating global warming, experts say, one of those solutions must be conservation.

From the second article:

America’s drive for energy independence and clean air could threaten orangutans, Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses and the world’s largest butterflies. All could be hurt as the rainforests of Southeast Asia are cleared to produce palm oil for use in biodiesel.

Besides palm, the Grays Harbor plant will convert soy, canola and other feedstocks directly into biodiesel without blending it with any petroleum products.

Actually, there was this article from last month discussing what they will be using to make biodiesel:

Imperium has signed a contract to buy up to 1 million gallons of Washington-grown canola oil from Yakima County

Which is just one percent of the plant’s capacity, a token amount to get people off their back.

Plaza said that the canola biodiesel will cost more than traditional biodiesel, but the company is in discussions with agencies who may be willing to pay a premium to help support Washington farmers.

“We’re trying to make sure everybody understands that Ted, Natural Selections and Imperium are making the market, but we can’t do it at a loss,” Plaza said.

Billions of people around the world use palm oil for cooking, and it’s found in thousands of products including soaps, shampoos, cosmetics and detergents, along with such foods as margarine, mayonnaise, salad oil, potato chips and other snacks, confectionaries, cakes, pastry, bread and ice cream.

Existing biodiesel plants and those on the drawing boards will easily “soak up” all of the palm oil currently available, according to a January report from the financial company Credit Suisse.

An earlier report prepared for Friends of the Earth, a member of the roundtable, found that the “actual on-the-ground impact of these private-sector initiatives remains negligible at present.” The report went on to warn that the palm-oil industry may be incapable of self-regulation.

“It’s absolutely disingenuous to suggest that biodiesel made from palm oil is green or sustainable,” said David Waskow, international program director for Friends of the Earth.

And finally, from the MSN article:

Ethanol plants’ strong demand for corn is driving up the cost of livestock and will raise prices for beef, pork and chicken, the Agriculture Department said today.

The price of corn, the main feed for livestock, has driven up the cost of feeding chickens by 40 percent …