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A dark side to the ethanol boom?

A backlash to fuel made from corn is emerging among environmentalists, economists, and antipoverty activists.

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In some circles, ethanol made from corn has become a golden nectar in the fight against global warming. It comes from a benign, wholesome, home-grown plant, and it produces no nasty greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

But a backlash to corn ethanol is emerging. Environmentalists, economists, and poverty activists all are raising questions.

Making ethanol from corn may be "much less efficient" than producing gasoline from oil, reports the Associated Press:

"Just growing corn requires expending energy – plowing, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting all require machinery that burns fossil fuel. Modern agriculture relies on large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, both of which are produced by methods that consume fossil fuels. Then there's the cost of transporting the corn to an ethanol plant, where the fermentation and distillation processes consume yet more energy. Finally, there's the cost of transporting the fuel to filling stations. And because ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline, it can't be pumped through relatively efficient pipelines, but must be transported by rail or tanker truck."

Other environmental problems exist as well, according to a report cited in a recent article in the online magazine NewScientist.com. Among the report's conclusions:

"Intensive harvesting erodes soil; massive use of fertilizers contributes to the eutrophication of rivers and lakes and the reduction of fish and aquatic life habitat; widespread use of pesticides contaminates water and soil; and extensive irrigation for corn monoculture depletes water resources."
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