Argument: The corn ethanol boom is driven by political propaganda

Issue Report: Corn ethanol

Argument summary

The ethanol explosion began in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when ADM’s chief executive, Dwayne O. Andreas, was a generous campaign contributor and well-known figure in the halls of Congress who helped push the idea of transforming corn into fuel.Ethanol can be produced from a number of agricultural feed stocks, including corn and sugar cane, and someday, wheat and straw. But given the glut in corn, the early strategy of Mr. Andreas was to drum up interest in ethanol on the state level among corn farmers and persuade Washington to provide generous tax incentives. But in 1990, when Congress mandated the use of a supplement in gasoline to help limit emissions, ADM lost out to the oil industry, which won the right to use the cheaper methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, derived from natural gas, to fill the 10 percent fuel requirement. Now huge corn subsidies given to farmers provide the incentive to produce corn for ethanol instead of corn for food consumption.