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Editorial, 11/20: Ethanol a key part of energy mix

November 20, 2013

Editorial, 11/20: Ethanol a key part of energy mix

The decision by the Obama administration to roll back the ethanol mandate is being characterized in some quarters as a blow to the ethanol industry.

Nebraska’s ethanol producers can and should roll with the punch.

There’s little doubt the industry is under attack by a misguided and misinformed alliance of tea party Republicans and erstwhile environmentalists. Better for ethanol supporters to save their energy for the renewed attacks that are sure to come even after the rollback.

Many critics of ethanol make a fundamental mistake in assuming acres of corn grown for ethanol mean those acres are diverted from food production.

That’s not true.

Ethanol plants take the starch out of corn kernels and leave a high-protein feed for livestock, particularly cattle, as established by research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and other universities. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study shows a bushel of corn processed by a dry ethanol plant produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17.5 pounds of animal feed.

The process concentrates the protein and other nutrients. Research shows that a ton of distillers grain replaces, on average, 1.22 metric tons of other typical feed, such as corn and soybean meal. Last year, ethanol plants produced 34.4 million tons of distillers grain. The previous year, production reached a high of 39 million tons.

In a sense, the rollback proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency merely reflects reality.

When the Renewable Fuel standard was enacted in 2007, it was based on projections that Americans would be burning far more fuel now than they actually are. Since then, cars have become more fuel efficient, and Americans have stopped driving as much.

The new ethanol mandate is a bit below the production capacity of the national ethanol industry. But producers can take solace that there still is a market for their renewable product and go to work protecting it.

Critics of the ethanol industry are prone to blaming it for any number of ills, including the truly unfortunate conversion of marginal lands to crop production; the nation has lost millions of acres of grassland. In Nebraska, more than 800,000 acres have been taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program.

The nation needs to do a better job of protecting its prairie and wildlife habitat. But destroying the ethanol industry is not the answer. Instead, Congress should support stronger conservation measures in the farm bill now in the House-Senate conference committee.

Motorists lately have been pleased by fuel pump prices below $3 a gallon. Ethanol is part of the reason for those low prices. The clean-burning renewable fuel is a valuable part of America’s energy mix.

Written by the Journal Star editorial board

Journal Star editorial board

Julie Bechtel, publisher

Dave Bundy, editor

Gordon Winters, opinion page editor

Ava Thomas, general manager

Brady Svendgard, operations manager

L. Kent Wolgamott, entertainment writer

Zach Pluhacek, assistant online news editor

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