Editorial: Ethanol plant about much more than air quality

Like the proposed hog slaughtering facility controversy of 2004, we will be hearing much more about air quality issues associated with a possible ethanol plant in Winnebago County near Park-Er-Woods subdivision on Rockford’s far west side. However, for me, the controversy extends well beyond air and quality-of-life issues.

The debate should not only be about those important topics, but also our needless over-reliance on fossil fuels for energy, fuel crops versus food crops, carbon dioxide emissions.

For those who are unfamiliar with the topic, let me describe the background.

Illinois farmers are one of the largest producers of corn in the nation. That corn an be processed into many products, such as ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in beer, wine, distilled spirits and gasoline.

Supporters of ethanol in gasoline claim it helps the fossil-fuel burn more cleanly and decreases our reliance on imported oil used to produce gasoline. They also claim ethanol in gasoline provides a needed market for Illinois corn farmers to sell their product.

The beneficiaries of the proposed ethanol facility will likely be corporate and independent farmers and agri-businesses that process corn into ethanol. Supporters of the plant also assert the facility will provide more opportunities for local jobs.

Opponents of the plant, which include nearby residents, say the primary argument against the facility is that it will significantly decrease air quality, which may result in health and safety hazards and a decrease in quality-of-life.

As important as those arguments are, in my opinion, ethanol for use in gasoline is a ruse as even a partial answer to our over-reliance on fossil-based fuel for motor vehicles. This is because it takes more energy to produce the ethanol than the energy that is derived from the corn.

That fact results in a net contribution to global carbon dioxide emission levels that exacerbates global warming. Ethanol from corn also results in undue stress on the land through depletion of nutrients and minerals in the soil, which are needed to grow food crops rather than fuel crops.

Let’s hope our local daily newspaper, politicians and business leaders don’t privately or publicly display a familiar cavalier attitude toward residents’ concerns about the proposed ethanol facility by calling them NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) or CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) people.

A healthy skepticism is necessary to keep democracy.

from the Jan. 11-17, 2006, issue