REPORT: ETHANOL SURGE COULD CAUSE POLLUTION RUN-OFF
U.S. ethanol proponents have encouraged bringing local production to non-traditional ethanol markets, but there are environmental downsides that need to be considered, according to a just-released report by a Mid-Atlantic coalition, which focused on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
There are approximately 15 corn-based ethanol plants under construction or planned for the Mid-Atlantic region, which will collectively produce 1 billion gal/yr, according to the report by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Quality Program. Approximately 370 million bushels/yr of corn would be needed to provide the feedstock for the ethanol plants - more than 1.5 times the current regional production of corn, the report noted.
Therefore, the region's farmers are likely to increase corn planted in the Bay watershed by 500,000 to 1 million acres over the next few years, the report found. But the increasing corn production and accompanying higher demand for fertilizer could mean more pollution run-off from the fields to the local water tributaries, eventually finding their way to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, noted the report. "...[I]ncreased corn production could result in an additional 8 million-16 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 0.8 million-1.6 million pounds of phosphorous pollution annually," it found.
At the same time, the states encompassing the Bay (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) have pledged to a 110 million pound reduction in annual nitrogen pollution.
"This study is a warning sign that corn-based ethanol carries some real environmental baggage," said Frank O' Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
"We could be exchanging one problem - imported oil - for another -- pollution of critical water bodies," he added. The fertilizer run-off can also contribute to so-called "dead zones" in water bodies, whereby the nitrogen and phosphorous feed algae blooms. In turn, the algae consume oxygen that wildlife needs to survive in the water....
The study's findings are "not a big surprise," added Frank Maisano, a spokesman for refiners. "We've been seeing the unintended consequences of ethanol manifest itself in many ways," including higher prices for popcorn, steaks and tequila, he added.