Sunday, February 3, 2008

Midwestern towns reject new ethanol plants

With all the talk lately about ethanol and if its a good solution or not to replacing petroleum reminded me of an article I read in the NYTimes awhile ago. The basic gist of the article was opposition to ethanol plant construction in small towns in the Midwest. Alot of these residents are opposing plans to build new ethanol plants near their homes, citing a number of reasons including pollution, noise, traffic and declining home values. The basic motto regarding this is “We’re fine with the idea of ethanol, just don’t make it near my house.”

The irony in this is that ethanol was touted as being the investment that would reinvigorate small farm towns across the U.S. It was built up as something that would be bring a lot of jobs and money into mostly rural areas that don’t really have much going for them besides growing corn. With that said, it doesn’t look like ethanol production will be making much headway in these areas. The people in these areas really don't want anything to do with new plants.

So why would communities reject something that should allow them to potentially prosper and be a leader in the future energy supplies for the country? Maybe ethanol has been hyped up so much that now reality is starting to set in. Since these plants are actually going through the processes to get built, people are seeing the full picture with regards to ethanol.

I take a couple of things away from this, mainly that ethanol as it has been sold to us by policy makers and the ethanol and corn industries as a perfect solution to our energy needs and economic troubles in the Midwest. Second, I see this reaction happening more and more across the country. Everyone wants greener technology or a cleaner way to make fuel or reduce or dependence on foreign oil, but no one wants to make the sacrifices to make it possible.

With that said, maybe ethanol isn't the best metric to view how much we want to change things. Besides being a replacement to MTBE, no one is enthused about using ethanol, much less producing it. So maybe these folks in the Midwest aren't so foolish about rejecting these ethanol plants. They might be against the plants for differing reasons, but the overall theme is that no one wants ethanol, except maybe policy makers.


John Losinger said...

Very interesting post. It definitely alludes to the "nimby" (not in my backyard) problem associated with most energy production.

With regards to ethanol being a sort of policy panacea, I thought that today's Google "quote of the day" seemed fitting for both corn-based ethanol and energy supply in general:

"The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action."
-Frank Herbert

ashlynn said...

I agree - interesting post. Growing up in the Midwest, ethanol is not a new concept to me. Actually I remember going to the Missouri State Fair as a child and picking up a bumper sticker reading 'Ethanol. The Pollution Solution.'

MFA Oil Company is a farmer-owner cooperative in the Midwest (functioning very similar to an electric cooperative) that produces gasoline, diesel, and E85 for sale in Missouri and elsewhere in the Midwest. Actually the E85 is 85% ethanol made from Missouri corn and is processed and sold in mid-Missouri.

This makes me wonder if ethanol is such a bad thing for rural economies like mid-Missouri. It seems like keeping the market small and within the region, like MFA Oil has, isn't such a terrible thing. Expanding plants and building new ones does strain the local economy and food sources, so I can see the perspective addressed in the article. Is ethanol a political hoax? I don't know.

Food (and fuel) for thought...