To: Senator Chuck Grassley: Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce Senate
From: Nicole Dykes
Subject: The Use of Corn Ethanol Fuel
Although many people believe using corn ethanol as an alternative fuel source is very good for rural towns, there is evidence that corn ethanol could do a lot more harm to small towns than it will do good. I grew up in a small rural town with barely one thousand people and I watched as it was completely changed by a corn ethanol plant being built there. I think it had a very negative effect on this town and if the government continues to push for corn ethanol fuel I believe it will destroy many more rural towns.
I think there is a big misconception that all small towns yearn to be a lot bigger and well known. I absolutely loved growing up in a small town where you knew everyone in the town, they knew you, and you could feel safe in your own town. I lived out in the country, and driving home we would wave to the hard working farmers many who lived very close to us and we knew very well. They were not by any means struggling money wise, they were hard working and getting paid well for their work. This I am sure you can relate to considering you are from Iowa and yourself a farmer. I imagine you grew up similarly to me and that is why I think you will share my frustration about what happened to my small town.
My junior year of high school I heard my dad and grandpa talking about voting on building a corn ethanol plant in Garnett At the time they thought it was a bad idea mostly because they knew the taxes in the town would increase. A few months later the town of Garnett had voted yes to building the ethanol plant and production began. By the time I started my senior year of high school the plant was open and our tiny town of one thousand suddenly became two thousand because of people moving there to work at the plant. It was a definite shock to the residents of Garnett all of the sudden we didn’t know everyone’s name in our town. My first day of school there were so many people packed into our small high school and sadly the new students weren’t welcomed into my class especially. Most of us had known each other since kindergarten and at that time it was our senior year and we all were looking forward to prom together and graduating together. We knew that was still going to happen, but instead of graduating next to the same people I had been placed by since kindergarten, I was now graduating next to people I did not know. I know that any growth in a town is seen as a positive thing, but I have to strongly disagree.
The small town of Garnett has had to pay a very high price for this decision. They had to spend the money to expand the high school and grade schools because there simply was not enough room. The school does not look the same and I had always wanted to move back and have kids go to the same school I went to. I don’t think I will do that now because I want my kids to know the people they go to school with and the teachers that are teaching them as well as I did. I don’t want my kids to go to a school where they are just a number. Also since the ethanol plan was built there the crime rate went up significantly. I’m not saying there were no problems before this, but it really was a place you could feel safe. They have had several robberies at our local gas stations, home evasions, and even three murders. This type of crime truly was unheard of until after the ethanol plant was built. As if that was not enough, taxes also went way up for the people in the town. The land tax my parents pay every year nearly doubled. I’m sure you can understand why this would upset me and everyone else in the town in Garnett, because it is clear to me you cherish your small town and your agricultural state of Iowa.
I read on your section on the U.S. Senate’s webpage that you are in fact a farmer yourself, because of this I feel that this section will definitely appeal to you. The increase use in ethanol is making our food prices go up and not only in the United States, but in the rest of the world. Although, that may seem like a good thing for farmers I know as a senator you care about every citizen and this is bad for average citizens. According to the Pepperdine University article, Is Going Yellow Really Going Green? A Cost Benefit Analysis of Ethanol Production in America, although the use of ethanol has lead to an increase in corn production it has actually decreased the amount of corn we use to eat and use to produce corn based foods. Since the United States are the largest producer of corn this also affects the rest of the world.
Another common argument for ethanol is that it is supposed to better the environment, but according to the United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that may not be the case. An article on their website says, “because the emissions involved in the production, transportation, and conversion of corn into ethanol, ethanol results in higher total-life cycle emissions of these pollutants as well as sulfur and nitrogen.” According to the Pepperdine University article corn fertilizers and pesticides result in an excess of nitrogen that leaks nitrogen which lean leaks into the ground and causes oxygen deprivation. The article defined this as hypoxia, which can lead to decrease in fish populations and loss of plant life. Also in Pepperdine University’s article the production of ethanol can also have a negative effect on crops. The demand for corn has gone up therefore other crops are being ignored in order to plant more corn. According to the article, this is bad because other crops have limited crop rotation and this can lead to soil erosion.
The last subject I would like to bring up to you to prove that corn ethanol is not the solution is the cost of changing automobiles to be fuel-flex vehicles. According to Pepperdine University’s website, right now all vehicles can run on E10 or E15 mix of ethanol and regular gasoline. That means that only ten to fifteen percent is ethanol and the rest is just regular gasoline. The article from Pepperdine University E85 (which is eighty five percent ethanol and is much cleaner ethanol), can only be used in vehicles that are made to run on high levels of ethanol. According to David McCurdy, the president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, “Changing a fleet of vehicles over to be capable of running on E85 will be costly and time consuming.” Especially right now, when the economy is so bad I cannot imagine even half of Americans being able to buy a new fuel flex car. I also learned from the article on Pepperdine University’s website that, “ethanol is corrosive and can decay untreated joints and tends to clean the internal surfaces, making them more susceptible to corrosion from water inside.” They went on to say that this can be fixed by coating and treating the inside, but it may require an entirely new infrastructure. This will definitely cost a lot of money. I really like the example they used in the article about three stool legs which in this case are ethanol, infrastructure and vehicles and if any of those three are missing it cannot stand on its own. Unfortunately, all three of these things are expensive and it would take a long time to get it all going and working at the same time.
I agree that we need to constantly be looking for new sources of energy so we are not dependent on foreign oil and so we can improve the quality of our environment, but in my opinion the costs outweigh the benefits when it comes to corn ethanol. I believe you want to help the average small town citizen and ethanol is clearly costing them a lot. They have to give up their quaint small town atmospheres, pay higher taxes, pay more for their food, it is actually destroying our environment even more, and in order to benefit from ethanol 85 they have to buy a new fuel flex car that can handle 85% ethanol fuel.